As a 24 hour solo racer I’m pretty used to the main battle in a race being with yourself and not other people. Unusually however this was a philosophy I had to draw on in an xc race at the G8 events Thetford 4 hour XC Enduro being the only one in my category. Of course the overall was still to battle for but setting off from the start line knowing you had already won your category was a bit odd.
Thetford as you probably know is pretty flat but what it lacks in hills it makes up for in relentless twisty singletrack where there is pretty much zero freewheeling to be had. 4 hours round here offers a pretty good full body workout, constantly having to get out of the saddle and wrestle the bike through the woods. Fortunately the density of trees and the sandy under surface make it a pretty all weather venue and the course was incredibly dry considering the weather we’ve had with only the odd minor bit of muck on the 4.8 miles circuit. The organisers had picked a pretty interesting course with a mix of fireroads, freshly cut singletrack and existing off the beaten track occasional dives in to the woods. The highlight was rolling up and down a series of weird twisty mounds in roller coaster fashion. The weather was pretty clement as well for the time of year, bonus!
The race had British Cycling commissaires which was a bit odd as the 2 and 4 hour options aren’t official BC recognised events. Even more bizarre was the call up to the line to be ‘gridded’. For some reason the commissaires thought that all the 4 hour riders should go at the front and as the only one in ‘expert/elite’ category I was called first to soon be followed by some confused looking vets, grand vets and women’s category contenders, most of whom would have clearly preferred to have slotted somewhere mid pack. The result was me getting heckled by the waiting throng, “you’ll be gutted if you don’t win mate” and even more entertaining was the resulting set off which involved me firing from the gun and 20 seconds latter look over my shoulder to see a pack of 90 riders in a bunch about 30 metres back with the 2 hours boys desperately trying to fight their way through the 4 hour gang.
This hilarity is all captured at the start of the video from the drone camera. I think they might have got carried away with using it though as the its 9 minutes long!
It wasn’t long until the fast 2 hour riders caught me up. I decided that I might as well join in their race for the first half of my 4 hours so I gave it the beans and held my own somewhere near the sharp end for about 90 minutes before my head told me I had a way to go yet and didn’t want to be crawling 3 hours in. Within all these it was impossible to tell if any 4 hour riders had been dragged along so I just focussed on keeping my head down and concentrating on pushing the pedals. I’ve been working with Jon at E3 coach for a while now and one thing we’ve been looking at is keeping the concentration to keep the pace high and remove my tendency to go in to survival mode as in ultra endurance events. This attitude is quite a contrast to my energy saving usual long game style but after doing a few more xc races this year is something I’m slowly getting a hang of.
As the business end of the race approached having no support crew meant I had no information after catching up and lapping a few familiar faces around me on the start line I assumed I was probably going well. One thing I did notice was the total lack of commentary at the start/finish and even after requesting some to liven things up, rolling over the line each time was met with the silence of a graveyard. Lapping at around 25 minutes towards the end and with an hour to go I was keen to find out whether I would need 3 laps or just two after another rider told me I was probably in the lead. To my dismay after stopping at the timing tent twice, on neither occasion were they able to tell me what the gap was to the next rider. I’m not sure they really understood the significance of having to do another lap vs knowing you’ve got it in the bag and a lady said, “oh you don’t really need to know that do you” my look of disgust probably said it all and after some vacant looks from the timing van I just decided to go out again.
Fortunately it turned out that I was indeed a lap up but my last couple of laps were a mix of full gas and chatting with other riders who equally had no idea what was going on in their categories either. On most sections you could see pretty far behind so I was able to cruise the last lap and thank the marshals which is rare you have the opportunity to do.
A good outing despite some of the timing frustrations and although the field was pretty slim on the ground for the 4 hour event it’s always nice to get an overall. Keeping up with the 2 hour boys for a fair while was good for the speed training as well although I did have to shovel a load of food down after about 3 hours to recharge the legs for the earlier effort.