Hosting a local XC race at home on my parent’s farm is something that I have always wanted to do: there seem to be so few grassroots events like there were when I was in my teens. It’s also a great way of putting something back into the sport that has given me so much.
With the help of my local cycling club Malvern Cycle Sport we have hosted a couple of events over the last year or so, but this year we have joined in with another organiser and venue to create a little local series across the two venues, the Back On Track Bash Series.
I designed the course and taped it which until you have ever done any course taping you don’t realise just how time consuming it is! I also found time to race as I needed the opportunity of an XC race before the first World Cup in Houffalize the following weekend.
It was hardly any comparison, there were only a handful of girls and I raced for around half the length of time I would need to the following weekend, but it was still a great opportunity to push hard and race some of the junior and youth boys for a few laps, until they left me on the climbs!
Although a small event we had good weather and I think all that attended really enjoyed it and I hope that the next round in August will attract a few more people and the event will continue to grow. It really was satisfying to see so many youngsters ripping around the woods on bikes, you never know, like me; they might still be ripping around woods 20 or so years later.
I had a couple of days to get cleared up from the race and then it was time to pack my van and drive out to Europe for my first World Cup of the year, but bizarrely my first world cup in 2012 was going to be at an XC race. Houffalize has been a World Cup venue since 1990 and one that I have always heard good things about, but I have never been, so I was excited to visit one of the longest standing venues of the MTB World Cup tour. This year there was a new XC course and also they would host the first ever World Cup Sprint Eliminator race, which is the event I was hoping to do well at.
After pretty much a full day of travel I arrived in Houffalize around 7pm and after dinner I went for a walk in to town to stretch my legs after a day in the car and also to check out the venue. I found myself at the start/ finish area and spotted a few XCE (sprint eliminator course) signs and began to follow them.
I wanted to see what the course was going to look like as the only one I had done before was in Pickering last year and it was a street race in the town. This one was definitely not on the street as the signs just kept pointing up this dark steep hillside. I really thought I must have missed a sign as the course just went straight up the hill and straight back down again! Not what I was expecting and certainly something I was not prepared for.
My first thoughts were not so positive as I really could not see myself being able to race the XC whippets up a hill that steep, but after looking in the daylight and actually getting to ride it, it was actually over quicker than I thought, the problem for me was going to be having to do more than one lap of it over the duration of the evening.
The start helped you create some speed for the first climb as they had built start ramps off the podium to start the race, so I felt pretty much at home, it was like being at the start of a DH race, but the view was a little different as I all I could see was a hill in front of me that went up and not down. To create the start brackets for the four person motos we had to do a single time trial around one lap to determine your start order. This was going to be the first real test as to how hard a flat out lap was going to be, and it was pretty hard, but once at the top of the hill you could pretty much freewheel to the finish, so it really was all about the climb.
I had a good TT and placed 3rd which was better than I had expected so suddenly my confidence grew and I started to believe that maybe I could do ok on this track. Three rounds later and I found myself in the semi final, but by this stage the previous three efforts were beginning to take its toll on me and my recovery was not happening quite as well and my dizzy feelings after each round were lasting longer.
I managed to get into 2nd place out of the start and held it until the base of the main climb, but I just had nothing left to be able to match Annie Last who sprinted passed me and took a place in the final.
I was knocked out and know had to race again in the small final for 5-8th place. I really was utterly dead by this stage but somehow I managed to get enough power to take the lead and into the base of the steep climb but just had nothing left to even stop myself from doing a wheelie on the climb and ended up getting nudged by another rider which was enough to knock me off balance and off my bike and I was left running, well walking up the climb and to an eventual 7th place finish.
Although disappointed to not be able to have capitalized on my strong starts, I was happy to get the first sprint race underway and get a solid result. I now have a month to train hard for the next round and just pray there are no steep hills in the next round in the Czech Republic.
In order to be able to enter the sprint race you also have to enter the XC race on Sunday and that is why earlier in the year I was chasing the UCI points so that I could enter these events. It seems however that you just have to enter and don’t actually have to start as a couple of other of gravity racers who did the sprint opted out of the XC. I can now see how that may have been a good move.
The XC course was just a bigger version of the pro sprint course, but the climbs were three times as long and you had to do about eight of them in every lap. It was one of the steepest up and down courses I have ever ridden and it was just relentless over the first half of the lap. I have definitely had more fun rides on my bike than this one and after I spent the first lap queuing around the course as I started at the back of the race, I then spent the rest of the race on my own just suffering up every climb.
I must have looked like I was hurting as I got some great cheers from the Belgian fans and began to enjoy chatting to the crowd as I crawled around the course. I finally finished in 79th which was a disappointing result, but one that I didn’t feel I could have done any better on that course and how I felt on that day.
It really is a humbling experience to race in an event like that and just experience how fit and strong top level XC racers are.
The dedication and time they must spend on their bikes to reach that level of fitness is crazy. I will always love playing on my bike and riding downhill too much to ever reach that level I. That said though I am enjoying the challenge and the new world that my eyes have been opened to and next stop for me is a UK national.
My first XC national in a category other then fun or sport…