This was an aptly named race. Soggy Bottom XC Winter Series. I got the soggy bum and pretty much soggy everything else too! A bit like a day at the beach I suppose. Mud everywhere: ears, nose, between my toes, caked into my hair.
Last week the race I had planned to do yesterday was postponed by two weeks. I looked around for alternatives and found the S.B race at Plymouth. ‘Oooo, Newnham Park! I’ll enter that race!’ Naturally I entered and paid before thinking about how far away Plymouth is …
It had been raining and raining, and was forecast to rain a lot more on race day. I do not like mud, and Newnham is a steep venue so I rightly guessed mud would be plentiful. I wanted to improve my confidence in the mud, and a good way to do that is to repeatedly ride loops of a challenging muddy section. I badgered Dad into driving me so it was really nice not to have to spend nearly 6 hours in the car alone on a Sunday. (We left at 0630 for a 1030 start). Thanks!
On test riding the course I knew I had come for the right reasons: to build my confidence and skills in adverse conditions. Result and time were not on my mind. I wanted to enjoy the race.
The start format was a mass start with several men’s and women’s categories bundled in together. I had a good start for the first 30 secs, being fairly close to leading the whole field. The course consisted of a start ‘loop’, while the course proper was one big fireroad climb and one muddy twisty descent. The organisers had made an easier course than normal with lots of fireroad due to the rain and mud. The climb was brutal, but fortunately not too muddy or slippery.
As the race went on, I became more confident. Less braking in the corners at the top of the hill; a bit more speed through the thick mud; more aggressive with my line choices on the steeper descents and less cautious on the awkward corners. One of the descents was particularly bad, with the primary racing line rutting up after a few laps.
During lap 2 my seat post had started to slip, but I didn’t notice until lap 3 when I was overtaken by so many people! Although it meant I struggled to pedal uphill with my knees around my ears, I did rather like the downhill on this lap! Much easier to move around the bike with a low saddle. All the mud meant I could’t see my mark of where the correct height should be, so I lost around a minute on lap 4 getting it sorted. On the final lap I also dropped my chain within spitting distance of the finish, but I still needed to pedal so I lost a bit of time putting it back on.
I’m really grateful to the organisers for putting on this event, and making the effort to avoid the worst of the mud. Although it became bad after a few laps, it was at least, always rideable if not a challenge. Despite the morning rain that cleared up at 9am, there was still a sudden heavy downfall of rain in the 10 mins before the start. Once the start gun went it was sun all the way. We were very lucky with the weather! And best of all, I had fun.