Houffalize took a lot out of me both physically and mentally and I found it really hard to motivate myself to train in the run up to my next race, the national xc race at Dalby.
I didn’t pack any spares, spare wheels or even a turbo trainer for the weekend as I just couldn’t muster up the enthusiasm to take it seriously and I guess I almost wanted an excuse when I did badly. Even on the drive up to the race I was still questioning my choices for this year, and reminding myself that it was all my idea to have a go at XC and I had no one else I could blame.
Dalby was my first ever XC world cup last year and I really enjoyed the course, not too much climbing and some fun technical sections. I was really hoping this weekend was going to be a good one, with some good weather as my family and many of my local club riders were coming up to race and support the event and we were hoping to have some fun camping in the forest.
Sadly April weather was not fairing well and having watched the weather on Saturday morning I decided to get the awning up on the camper and get out on course for 2 laps before lunch as the weather looked set to get worse as the day progressed. What a good plan that was, as just as I came in from my second lap, the course was beginning to get busy with people stopping to look at the technical sections and the big black cloud was moving in fast.
By the time I got in the awning and had a shower the rain set in. It poured with rain and enough hail fell to give the camping field a snowy white covering. At that moment I was so glad for the investment I put in to the camper van as being warm and dry at a bike race is a must when you get a bit older.
With practice done I then had the afternoon to offer shelter, tea and cakes to my family and club members and got tucked up in bed early ready for an early race start.
As I set out for my warm up on the road in my full waterproofs I was cursing my grump I had earlier in the week and was wishing I had brought that turbo trainer after all. However now with a good clothing sponsor in Endura, I just wrapped up and set to warming up.
With a big field of nearly 30 Elite women I really had no idea what to expect and how I would fair. I knew not having to start at the back of a 100 rider field would make things easier at the start and my only plan was to get a good start and see what happened after that.
I managed to get a great start and entered the first wooded section in 2nd place right on Annie Last’s wheel. All I had to do now was stay there for as long as I could. Sadly that didn’t last too long as for some reason we had to do an extra start loop which sent us around the very muddy field for an extra loop before we headed off onto our first lap. Maintaining Annie’s pace for much longer I felt would have been a bad move for my longevity in the race, so I backed off and just continued at my own pace and surprisingly was only passed by three other riders and came into the field at the end of the first lap in 5th place.
I now just had to hang on for another 4 laps which I managed to do to take my first ever XC Elite podium. Although not the most enjoyable experience once again, 1hr 45min of suffering, I did enjoy the muddy conditions and I was really pleased to finish on the podium. Maybe this cross country game wasn’t so bad after all.
With some renewed enjoyment I had a good week of training and set off for a different challenge the following weekend, UK Gravity Enduro round 2 at Coed-y-Brenin in North Wales. This was always going to be one of the most physical of the enduro races in the UK as it was all based on a trail centre with a decent amount of pedalling. It was a much shorter loop than the first round at Innerleithen and took around 2.5hrs to get around all 5 stages.
I chose to use my Trek Remedy over my Slash for this race as the slightly lighter weight bike with less travel I felt would be an advantage on the pedalling sections. It felt great and worked out well for me in seeding as I took the fastest time by 20 secs ahead of Helen Gaskell. We were all set for race day and the weather forecast was also set to make things interesting as the met office had issued an amber warning for rain.
For once the weather was spot on, and the rain began early on and did not stop all day long. I spent the whole day in my Endura waterproofs even for the timed stages ! I was also really glad I packed my Shimano winter boots, warm feet for the entire day was an absolute bonus. Sadly I didn’t think to pack the winter gloves too and keeping your hands warm was one of the biggest challenges of the day.
We were really fortunate that we couldn’t have been at a better location for this weather, as the trails in coed-y-brenin are all rock, so it really did not effect the riding at all. I really think the speeds would not have been much higher in the dry as the grip and terrain was still great, just the poor visibility made it hard to see at times.
I was really happy with how I was riding, I felt strong and the efforts felt short compared to my last few weekends of XC pain. I was catching Helen Gaskell on every stage apart from stage 4 where a flat tyre ruined my day. After the quickest change I could manage in the horizontal rain, with fingers I could barely feel, it was sadly not quick enough and the 3 or so minutes I had managed to gain over the rest of the field I lost it all in my puncture, ending up in 5th spot around 3mins back.
I was pretty gutted to come away without a result having been riding well all day, but that’s part of the game with enduro you have to get yourself and your equipment around the entire loop. Next time I will remember that I had a CO2 in my Osprey pack and use it instead of the mini-pump.
Having my own pit and my own team is great until the day after a wet race when you spend an entire day having to dry the awning, awning sheets and washing bikes and kit. The wet really does make some extra work after a bike race. With that done I had to head down to London to do a talk at an Evans Store in association with Osprey. I never look forward to doing talks in front of people, but I think it went well and I had loads of great questions at the end.
I also squeezed in a couple of hard days xc training with some of the GB riders and learnt another lesson or two in suffering ! All good preparation for the next two world cup xc races and pro sprints in a week or so. To finish off my week I decided to get the downhill bike out and support a local downhill race at the forest of dean. It definitely felt odd being back on my DH bike but I had a fun day and managed to find enough speed to sneak the win by 1 sec ahead of Jess Stone.
I managed a pretty good mix of bike riding in different terrain over the last couple of weeks ! I now have my focus back on world cup racing with rounds 3 and 4 of the XC world cup taking place over the next 2 weekends.
My goal is to improve upon my results from Houffalize and if nothing else have some fun out there!