After my first ever race on a mountain bike [read report here] left me battered bruised and my head spinning due to a misjudged notion of ability which I simply didn’t have, I took the eminently wise move to enter the Open category at my next Gorrick outing.
Taking place at Windmill Hill, or Porridgepot Hill (I think they’re one in the same), the weather leading up to the race had made people realise why they call them April showers. Torrential downpours had left me tweeting rather desperately to get hints, tips, tyre suggestions and pressure ideas for what I thought was going to be an all-out mud fest.
When Sunday dawned clear blue skies, mild temperatures and light winds greeted me. I was still wary. The Bontrager Mud tyres were staying on, the weather was (I thought) trying to lull me into a false sense of security and I was having none of it.
Arriving with my mechanic (or Dad as i like to call him), signing on, and heading out on a sighting lap with a club mate who had done this kind of thing many times before (and now races 2nd cat on the road) the course was in a perfect state; soft loam and little mud meant that the single track was flowing and fun, roots not polished but happily ride able and much less daunting to a novice like myself.
Since my first race I’ve shortened my stem to 70mm, got new grips, tweaked my suspension so its more responsive (rather than teeth janglingly stiff) and fitted the new tyres (Bontrager Mud-X’s). The pressures I was running meant that all of a sudden where I was hanging on for dear life in the first race I was finally in control of the bike beneath me.
My Scott Spark Elite (suggested by Bikemagic’s own Dave Arthur) never seems troubled by anything I tend to throw at it, but now, rather than me sitting on top of it hoping it would turn when I wanted to it really was turning when I wanted to, and that sudden feeling of control really boosted my confidence.
More time on the bike (before the first race it was only a handful of hours) means that my technical riding is improving. Getting my weight forward on steep climbs and looking where I want to go rather than at the front wheel means that I’ve started to be able to keep the power going and speed higher than before. All these things seem obvious or second nature to most MTB riders, but my experience has been on the road, and then a cyclo-cross season, so these things are all learning experiences for me.
Elbows out in the race
The race started in its usual way: riders elbow to elbow fighting for the first piece of singletrack, and then those unable to get to the front caught out at the first pinch point. My start wasn’t the greatest; the first pinch point found me off and running around a fair few blokes struggling on the up hill – I guess that’s what comes from a season of ‘cross, often running around riders and back onto the bike is the quickest option and by pre-empting this I made up a couple of spots.
I’d made the conscious decision to keep things as consistent as possible, racing on the edge of my red zone without going too deep. The first race saw me going too hard too soon and spectacularly blowing up, making my ability to cope with the more technical sections next to none. I’ll be honest it was odd trying to keep my urge to go like the clappers at bay, but, as the second lap of my allotted three started I felt good, like I could start to push on.
I started to reel in riders, some finding it tough going on some of the ascents, having to get off and push. Each one I passed, I knew was an improvement on my previous race. I felt in control, making sure to drink when I could and much more than last time, whilst maintaining my speed.
As the last lap started I decided to empty the tank, my legs started to hurt more and more but I knew that I was going to achieve my first goal of the day at least: finish. The new found control had given me confidence and I know things can only improve as I race and ride more technical routes more often. My second goal of the day (to finish in the top half of the finishers) was within my grasp and as Dad and my club mate Shane cheered me home (he’d beaten me, as predicted) I knew I’d done all I could.
Last time I raced I’d finished dejected and beaten to a pulp, every part of me hurt, but this time I felt good, knackered of course and legs sore, but satisfied with how I’d performed against a field of riders of my own standard. Heading to find out my result I was really close to my second goal 34th out of 58 racers and my club mate finishing only 10 spots ahead of me was a real boost. I thought he’d smash me into next week.
The next race for me is soon, I’m heading to the first race of the Bedgebury XC series and hoping to keep the improvements keep coming. I’m hooked on racing, but now hooked on MTB even more.
See you out riding.