Sunday, 26 September 2010

British Mountain Bike XC Race Series, Round 5, Newnham Park, Plymouth, UK

After the British Marathon Championships a couple of weeks ago I wasn't sure whether or not to stop racing for the season. I was tired and didn't want to train. I took 4 or 5 days off the bike and then went out to try an interval session. I felt terrible and decided to head back home. I tried again a couple of days later and to my surprise I felt so much better and had a great session. I've completely reduced the amount of training I'm doing now and I'm just keeping things ticking over with a couple of interval sessions a week.

Without naming people I've had quite a lot of 'friendly' encouragement to give XC racing a go. It's never really appealed to me because the idea of racing on a short track 5 or 6 times for 1.5 to 2 hours isn't the reason why I started mountain biking. For me, riding has always been about spending at least 4-5 hours in the saddle, covering long distances, climbing big mountains and seeing amazing scenery. However, I finally ran out of excuses and Round 5 of the British Mountain Bike series didn't clash with any other races, in fact it fitted in perfectly with my training schedule and the venue was only a couple of hours drive away. I decided to do it for fun and see how I got on. We loaded up the van and headed off to sunny Devon.

As per usual and quite on cue Sally the MTB numpty emerged from within me while practicing the race course on Friday evening. I approached a section marked with three downward pointing arrows and rather than stopping and having a quick look I just rode straight into the drop. As my front wheel went over the lip I noticed that there was a good line and a bad line, and unfortunately I was right on course for the bad line. Splat. I picked my self up and brushed off the mud and blood. A few other riders came along and rode it without any trouble at all. I walked back up and rode it again only to lose the front wheel. Splat. I hurt my knee this time so I decided that I'd probably be best calling it a day before I did anything else stupid!

There was a great line up including Gunn Rita (Nor), Rosara Joseph (NZ), Amanda Sin (Can), Emmy Thelberg (Swe), Maaris Meier (Est), and a number of other good Irish and British riders. Luckily I had race number 13 :-) I had no expectations at all and I had no idea how I would get on. I've raced against Gunn Rita, Emmy and Maaris in a number of Marathons but never in an XC race. My aim was simply to give XC a go and see if I enjoyed it.

The start sent the riders through a deep river crossing and straight up a steep climb. It wasn't as fast as I had imagined and I was able to exit the river crossing and reach the top of the climb in the front bunch of 4 or 5 riders. The course then sent us down 'pipeline', which is a long, steep loose descent. It claimed a couple of victims but fortunately I wasn't one of them. I soon found myself in 3rd place with Emmy just behind. This is the way it stayed for the remainder of the first lap.

On the start of the second lap I was able to pull away from Emmy and stay at a comfortable pace with Gunn Rita and Rosara within sight ahead. I had no pressure from behind so I was able to get into a good rhythm and have fun. I enjoyed the course, particularly the short steep climbs and 'cottage return', which is a fun piece of single track. The second deep river crossing towards the end of the lap caused me some trouble and it took a few laps (and a few dips) before I found the right line :-)

I couldn't quite believe it when I started the final lap, it was over all too quickly! For a moment I thought that perhaps I had miscounted. When I passed through the start/finish I was told that I'd made up 30 seconds on the leaders and I was now only 20 seconds back. I could see them at the top of the climb ahead as they turned into a single track descent. I made a few small blunders and that was the last I saw of them. I crossed the line just over a minute back. Gunn Rita and Rosara had attacked in the final kms and Gunn Rita took the win 9 seconds ahead of Rosara.

Martyn Salt put on another great event, which was well attended. There were lots of spectators out on course and it was really nice to hear so many people shout words of encouragement. Thanks, it really does make a difference.

Although it was a short race and there wasn't a mountain in sight, I thoroughly enjoyed it and I'm looking forward to some more XC action next season.

Elite women

1 Gunn-Rita Dahle Flesjaa (Nor) 1:45:14
2 Rosara Joseph (NZl) 0:00:09
3 Sally Bigham (GBr) 0:01:15
4 Amanda Sin (Can) 0:05:59
5 Melanie Spath (Ger) 0:06:37
6 Lily Matthews (GBr) 0:08:23
7 Maaris Meier (Est) 0:09:58
8 Emmy Thelberg (Swe) 0:11:34
9 Melanie Alexander (GBr) 0:12:01
10 Elliot Caitlin (Irl) 0:13:24

Full results can be found here

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

British National Marathon Championships: Successful defence :)

The British National Marathon Champs were held last Sunday at Pippingford Estate, South of England. This venue also hosted the National XC Champs in July. In the UK it's extremely difficult to host a one lap marathon because stringent by-laws make it difficult to hold competitive races on public roads and bridleways. It's typical therefore to see multiple lap events. This year the marathon route used a 25km loop, which incorporated the excellent 10km XC course plus a new 15km loop that stretched out onto the other side of the valley. Riders raced 4 laps of the course.

The National Champs was an important race for me this season, not just because I wanted to defend my 2009 National Title but also because I don't race on home ground that often. I have to admit though that after racing the Ischgl Iron Bike, Austria, at the end of August I was feeling tired and motivation to train was already starting to dwindle. It's been a long season, which kicked off with The Cape Epic back in March. I had to mix up my training a bit by adding in an XC race and doing interval sessions off-road rather than on the road. This helped and I was feeling fired up, strong and excited to race. Although I knew that I had really good form, I also knew that I would have excellent competition in the form of Swiss rider Jane Nussli, who has a British race license from descent, and a few other girls who I've never raced against before.

I wanted to pre-ride the course as early as possible, but unfortunately pre-riding was not permitted until after 4pm the evening before the race. When we arrived it was raining and cold and I started to wonder whether this was a good idea! We set off and after about 4 miles we got lost because the course marking abruptly disappeared. We were joined by one of the other racers, Lesley Ingram, who also got lost and we spent a while trying to figure out which way to go. We failed and made our way back to the start/finish area. I was frustrated to say the least! We decided to go out on the XC course, which was already well marked.

It's not at all unusual for me to completely forget how to ride a bike the day before a race and this was no exception. Nerves do strange things to me ;-) I was riding like a total numpty! To make matters worse the rain made the course so greasy that parts were difficult to ride. After 2 hours I went back to our B & B feeling a little fed-up! We went out for dinner and I ordered a curry. It was so spicy that it played havoc with my stomach in the morning! Whoops ☺

True to the weather forecast we woke up to a clear blue sky and a light wind. I regained my confidence as I stood on the start line at 9.45am. The women went off first, 15 minutes ahead of the men. I took the lead and at the start of the first climb Jane was at my side. Once we reached the top we were riding alone. The first 15km was uncharted territory, never being raced on before, and because Jane and I were the first out we had the pleasure of seeing lots of deer fleeing as we raced past. We also had to dodge a herd of wild ponies :-)

A well stocked pit area

Given my experience of the course the previous night I was really sceptical about the first 15km loop; however I was pleasantly surprised. Although in a couple of places it was momentarily difficult to see where the course went, I didn't make any wrong turns. Furthermore the course was really good fun. Fire road was few and far between and there was plenty of fun singletrack. Jane and I had fun and chatted during the first lap, and it was great to ride with her. Early in the second lap I was able to pull out a small lead on one of the climbs. I extended this to a few minutes on the third lap, and after 5 hours and 25 minutes I finally crossed the line with a lead of 5 minutes 35 seconds over Jane. Lesley Ingram took third to finish off the Women's podium. Wahooooo! I’d done it. Job done. I’d won my third consecutive National title. Yay!!! I suddenly felt a huge weight off my shoulders. Link
Alone on the way to the finish line. Phew!

I thoroughly loved the course, which meant that the time literally flew by. I couldn't quite believe it when I was already on the final lap. This was certainly due to variety of the terrain, it really did have a bit of everything: fast bermed singletrack, roots, fast drops, short steep climbs, off camber sections etc. etc. Relative to marathons on mainland Europe this has to be amongst one of my favourite courses simply due to the amount of grin inducing singletrack ☺ The only thing missing was the climbing. Having said that there was approximately 2500metres of vertical ascent, though this was deceptive because there were no long sustained climbs. Given the chance I would definitely race there again. A massive thanks and congratulations to the organisers, headed by Steve Jones, who did an amazing job on a really tight budget. It was a shame that the number of riders was low, and having more non-elite riders would have improved the atmosphere. Mountain Biking is a great sport and I'd love to see more people in the UK out there, especially women.

As always a huge thanks to my amazing team, Topeak-Ergon Racing Team, and all of our great sponsors. I was really lucky to have a brilliant support team in the form of Dave (who has to win the prize for the most supportive partner ever!) and my parents. Big thanks also to Jane for coming all the way from Switzerland and making it a close race. I’m really looking forward to what we can both achieve internationally next year whilst flying the flag for Great Britain.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

British National Marathon Championships

It's the National Marathon Championships on Sunday 12th September. All the hard training is done and now I'm resting up :-) My training has been going well and I'm feeling strong, so fingers crossed for a good result!