Early July, and already time for the fourth round of the BMBS – it’s amazing how time flies. The Dalby course has been a topic of near-constant conversation amongst mountain bikers since the new world cup-standard trail debuted in last year’s series. Equipped with some extremely impressive technical sections, with suitably awe-inspiring names (such as the apt “Worry Gill”), the course had utterly fazed me a year ago. It had taken me an hour of standing knock-kneed at the top and bottom of this 2.5m drop before i had dared to go for it, and not before i’d had several false-starts. Even after i’d finally made it down the drop proper, with eyes closed and convinced that i was going to fall into oblivion, there was still a slippery, rocky gully to contend with at the bottom – nightmare. Sadly, things got even worse at Medusa’s drop, another steep tricky section with a series of thick roots snaking across it, and some step-downs to catch the unwary. I made it most of the way down before heading off-line completely, and coming to a nervous stop, but Rachel wasn’t so lucky and fell, breaking her finger and bruising her chest and ribs badly. I didn’t even make it to the start line of my race, as we spent most of the evening in Scarborough A&E, and i decided it was probably best for us to just head home.
So, you can imagine my trepidation as my weekend began with the long-haul north on the A1. A short stop for dinner at an M&S service station (this is not just food for fuel, this is M&S jus-drizzled food for fuel...) and we bumped into Lloyd and Hollie Bettles, and James Hyde also making the trip north from the east. We got to Pickering a little after 8pm, and headed straight for the only empty spot we could see, in between the caravans, oops! Tent pitched, we decided to postpone any thoughts of riding until early the next morning, and hit the hay.
As always, too early, the alarm went at 7am, and up we got to pre-ride the course, knowing we had to be back in time for Rachel’s race to start at 10am. A quick breakfast of muesli and strong coffee, and away we went to have a look around; the time pressure being rather a benefit to me; it meant i couldn’t faff about; i either had to ride it, or jump off and run. My only little wobble came on the “bus-stop” section – a steep little uphill between two trees with an even steeper run-out that required you to make a 90 degree turn in not much space. I got to the top, stopped, almost fell off the top (knowing that this is how Mel Alexander broke her hip at the world cup did nothing for my nerves!), took a few steps back and tried again. The second time up, and self-preservation took over my motor-skills, somehow my brain knew how to get me out of the mess, and i even managed to hop the back wheel around at the top of the slope for a better run-off. Awesome!
I carried on around the course, a little concerned about what was waiting for me after the steep, nasty climb to the top of the medusa descent. I knew from Rachel working at the world cup in April that the lines had been remodelled to give a tougher A-line and a longer, easier B-line; determined not to lose face, i headed around the sharp left-turn and onto the B-line. It required a fair bit of concentration to stay on the path, but the toughest bit was the right turn at the bottom – it was really tempting to square it off, but that would take you over an almost-invisible drop. Bad. However, it definitely seemed a lot less intimidating than the year before, and i felt buoyed by the pre-ride. With nothing terribly tricky standing between the bottom of Medusa and the finish line apart from the big climb to Jingleby summit, i felt ready to race.
12:30 came around pretty quickly, leaving me just enough time to fill my bottles, head down the hill and then climb back up for a warm up, and get to the start line in time to ride around in circles with 200 other riders. It always amazes me to watch this strange ritual – there’s no way you could possibly make it happen except spontaneously, and i can’t help but think it looks rather like an ancient burial rite (maybe that’s what living with an archaeologist does to you!). The elites were off, looking a little sketchy into the first jump, and then it was our turn to be similarly dodgy in our riding. As soon as we hit the first section of the course, the pace went right down, and the jostling began. I’m never very good at being defensive off my position in the group – i struggle being small; even when i stick my elbows out people can still get past! I was feeling good, and holding my cool in the technical sections, only to be amazed how many of my fellow competitors were prepared to lose places and time by not riding the worry gill drop. Maybe it was their first year there!
As i dropped down the medusa a-line, i must have pressed the lever for my front brake a little too hard, causing my front tyre to come unseated, and all the air (and quite a lot of latex) to spray out of the side. After a dodgy-stopping moment, i walked the rest of the descent and cheered the other riders, whilst resigning myself to the fact that my race was over. I then realised that i had all i needed to fix my puncture, and whipped tube and air canister off my bike, before getting latex all over my legs in the process of fitting the new tube. Unfortunately, my inflator failed, and only succeeded in freezing my fingers and not filling my tyre, and i was forced to pinch a track pump from the tech zone nearby. I explained my dilemma to the commissaire, and asked him to take my number but allow me to continue riding as i wanted to get a bit more practice on the course. I rode around for another two laps, but it was difficult to push on knowing i’d already lost more than 10 minutes because of my puncture. Jon Pybus had an excellent race finishing 26th, and without so much as a scratch on him (which is more than could be said for his mate Toby who looked like he’d found a less than friendly bear in the woods!). Depleted by illness and more illness, Mark C was the only other representative of AW in the afternoon races, finishing an impressive 7th in the super-competitive vets category.
The following day was the “non-competitive” Yorkshire Enduro, which i’d entered in an effort to get a bit of form before the national champs. Unfortunately, living a semi-vegetarian life, my largely meat diet on Saturday evening played havoc with my internals, and i was glad when friends Trevor & Andrew suggested that we ride around together as a trio at a more gentle, truly non-competitive pace. It was a great course that had been put together for us by the organisers, if a little short of the 20km the forestry had promised them, and it felt nice to be out and about on a bike on such a nice day. We injected a bit of life into our ride by playing “Tour Series hot laps” every time we came through the start finish, much to organiser Martyn’s amusement, but my stomach wasn’t really letting me play (at least that’s my excuse for being last every time!). All three of us were a long way down on winner (can you have a winner for a non-comp?) Lee Williams, but we had a great day out making for quite a colourful lot with me in blue and yellow, Trevor in ergon green and Andrew in his pseudo-national champion’s jersey! So from the annoyance of having a mechanical the day before, my weekend definitely finished on a high.
Thanks as ever to sponsors AW Cycles and Giant Bikes, both have seen me perfectly through the season so far.