XC race number 2 of the year has taken my all time total up to a whopping 3, it’s almost like I’m starting to make it a habit of it!
I was torn between a last minute entry to an enduro race at the Forest of Dean or one of a vast choice of XC races in the South over the weekend. Since moving down from Newcastle I can’t believe the density of quality races (and venues) that are hosted week in week out down here. The South might be a pain in the arse for traffic [and clearly the north rules] but as far as the race scene goes it’s booming.
I choose to give the 3rd and final round of the Fully Sussed Soggy Bottom XC series a go in Newnham Park, Plymouth. After clinging on for dear life in the expert/elite cat at Gorrick a few weeks ago I thought I’d see what the crack was in sport as there were very few entries to the upper tier.
Newnham Park has a great mix of trails, everything from pretty much downhill tracks to fast flowing rooty singletrack. The course seemed to incorporate a bit of everything, from sharp fire road climbs, technical rooty off camber to super steep and loose loam shoots of doom, and a bit of grassy field action for good measure.
In my vast experience of xc racing I’ve never come across so many different marked line choices down descents as I investigated lots of double down arrows all around the course on my practice lap. Just before spinning round to check out the course, the heavens opened making the damp conditions a bit more testing on the double downs. Now I’m normally pretty blasé about those sorts of arrows on a course as they usually mean a couple of offensive twigs or a pebble sized rock to negotiate. This was different, very different. On the practice lap I cleaned everything from an up and over hippo type of rock to some steep shoots to off camber drop off. Come the race though, these sections became entirely different beasts altogether…
The start lined up on a big wide open field which led to a steep grassy climb. Sensible way to sort out the pack I reckon. The gun went and I managed to find myself fairly close to the front, maybe it was that Torq Caffeine gel that gave me some extra beans. Instantly gasping for air as my diesel generator resisted the kick-start. I settled in along a fire road transverse and got to the first double descent marker, but oh dear I got to it and missed it so before I knew it was on the chicken line and lost a load of places frustratingly. Ploughing on, it soon became evident that the course had started to get really muddy in places since my practice lap, making my super fast summer rear tyre resemble a 2 fast 2 furious donut session. Hey ho, on I plodded.
Something I’ve picked up that happens in XC races is that making any sort of minor error you instantly lose a shed load of places. Riding smooth and getting the gears right is something I definitely need to work on as a slipped pedal here and there and slightly wrong line choices meant I slid back down the ranks a little. Fair play to those top boys who can really eat up the singletrack smoothly.
By lap two the double downs started taking serious victims – including me! Some fairly comical sliding around was great fun but the chicken lines gradually became the sensible choice for all but the brave and/or those with mud tyres attached, I fell into neither category! Riding the chicken line felt entirely wrong indeed but loosing places while picking myself up out of the mud each lap seemed a bit silly.
Another observation is how riding descents becomes much harder when you are red lining going in to them, concentrating on getting air in to your lungs rather than where you are going means some shonky line choices. I’m used to being knackered on descents but in a totally different way. Again, chapeau to the XC elite.
I had no idea where I was until lap 2 when the announcer announced, as they do, that I was fifth in sport. I had a cheeky look through the online entries beforehand and that sounded about right although I found myself riding alone again for most of the rest of the race, as per Gorrick. I think I’m so used to focusing on relaxing and conserving energy in races that I sort of lose concentration to push 100% all of the time when someone’s not in front or behind me.
A good measure of sliding around in the mud and getting frustrated with wheel spinning and my inability to ride the double downs clean (literally) dented my enthusiasm a bit and it wasn’t until I spotted 6th place a bit behind me coming in to the last lap that I got into it again and kicked on to the end, which generated a bit of interest as I like a good ‘leave nothing on the trail’ last lap. A fun day out and the sustained hard efforts are a good starting point to try and up the speed on the longer races.
Thanks to all the Cadet Marshalls and Fully Sussed for putting on a great event.
In a change of attack I’ll be getting all #enduro next weekend at Round One of the Welsh Enduro Series so will have to learn how to ride downhill again rather than slide down!