Thursday, 24 May 2012

A Fortnight of Championships Pt I

So, it's been all about the racing the last couple of weekends. Firstly the Southern XC Champs at Wasing, and then one of my bigger targets for the year, the National XCM Champs held on my favourite British marathon course around the town of Selkirk in the Scottish Borders.

First things first, though, and Wasing for the third round of the Southern XC series, doubling as the Southern Champs. Wasing is also going to be the venue for the National XC champs in July, but unfortunately i will be indisposed for this race, as i'll be putting my bike back together in a gym hall in southern Germany ready for the start of the Transalp. One helping of Wasing, given my previous experiences here (being stuffed into the barriers by a fellow expert rider at the NPS in 2010 during the first 100m) should be quite enough for the year.

Sarah and Trev were nice enough to put us up, and put up with us on the Saturday evening, during which i discovered (thanks to Trev's amazing cd collection) the inimitable septegenarian that is DJ Derek. If you haven't heard of him, check him out, it's not often you'll hear such perfect Jamaican patois from a man wearing a blazer! Rachel and I were even treated to the new inflatable mattress, which proved more comfortable than our bed at home with its pointy, twangy springs.

The previous two rounds of the southern series were dry but v. cold followed by dry but with sodden trails. This time, the weather and the fast-drying course chosen by the organisers made for the perfect combination of warm weather and pretty dry trails. Perfect. Less perfect was the fact that since the beginning of May i have been suffering terribly with pollen allergies - i thought you were supposed to grow out of hayfever, not into it. The warm day didn't make this any better, but Sarah's suggestion of beconase seems to have made life much easier on my airways.

So, the race. Rachel set off early in the morning (we're getting better at dealing with that!) in an elite women's field that also included Sally Bigham who does the occasional XC race to keep her speed up and her eye in. Predictable, Sally rode away from the field to win by an emphatic margin over second-placed Jo Munden, with Rachel in 3rd. I had a nice chat with Sally's other half, Dave, in the feed zone, and then pottered about getting ready for my race. 2pm came around pretty quickly, and before i knew it we were being gridded up. On account of being in 6th in the series points, i got a front row slot, very aware that i didn't want to get in anyone's way! The gun went, and with this and my traffic light practice from my commute, i actually got away reasonably competently, sitting just inside the top-10. I was amazed how much better i felt riding the loamy singletrack than two years earlier, and in spite of an optimistic tyre choice (very very worn aspen on the back, very very worn rendez on the front) i wasn't doing too badly at staying upright either. That said, Mark Davies (Cycle Coaching Wales), with his Welsh riding background came past me on the final descent towards the finish, after i graciously moved aside for him (it's always nice to be polite!).

At the end of the first lap through the feed i caught sight of Trev, he had come down with a fever in the night, and in spite of all our advice to the contrary was determined to race anyway. He clearly wasn't well, but gave me some great encouragement as we rode on together, and i re-passed Mark on the fire road climb. I kept pushing on, aware that other like Tom Ward (Giant Radlett) were still visible behind through the sections where the course doubled back (like an excellent connected bomb-hole section i remembered from the NPS).  At some point during the 3rd lap, Simon Ernest caught me, riding with another Master's rider for 3rd place, and i tried to latch onto the wheel. It didn't last, but gave me a bit more energy to push on, and i could no longer see anyone behind. Towards the end of the lap, i caught sight of Ed Rose (Progression Fitness) but couldn't close the gap, in spite of my best efforts. And that's where i finished, 8th place, my highest placing in a southern (i think) since i started racing expert, and a great race where i actually felt competitive. Race time was a little short, but i doubt i'd have been able to capitalise with an extra lap, and in any case that seems to be the way the sport is going.

I know it sounds very old-fashioned, but i'm inclined to think that the Trek 26" hardtail was still the perfect tool for the job, it's so light you can chuck it about really easily, even with little stick-arms like mine. Get the tyre and shock pressures right and it handles beautifully and grips the trail just as well as my Giant Anthem did last year. I am still yet to try a 9er, but i intend to steal Simon's superfly at the first available opportunity, just in case i am missing something!

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