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.
Image: joolze dymondThe 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 :-)
Image: joolze dymondI 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.
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