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.
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.