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.
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!