“Feeling sick yet?” It’s my JustRide team-mate Gary’s voice, which means that he’s caught me up. Damn it. It’s only lap two and I’m puffing along like a tug, wondering where my fitness has gone to. I’m having one of those days when I should have stayed in bed, and not entered the fourth round of the Soggy Bottom XC series at Newnham Park.
As Gary passes I stick to his back wheel along the singletrack. Turning onto the fireroad, though, he slowly but surely begins pulling away. I try to respond, but nothing happens. I try again. Nothing happens. I can do nothing but watch him ride away into the distance. Now, Gary is a fast rider (faster than his Heckler should allow) but I have been getting better at holding him off. Not today. Maybe it’s because the planets are not in alignment, or something.
I resign myself to the stark truth that for the remaining laps I have to concentrate on just finishing. I began with visions of competing for points, but that very soon faded away. Not that I managed the best start…
As is usual we (Gary, Matt and I) rode a warm-up lap, both as an actual warm up and to familiarise ourselves with the course. This was going to plan, until I punctured on the final descent. Not great when it’s five minutes to the start of the race. A rapid change of inner tubes, a pitstop the Ferrari F1 team would have been proud of, and I was ready to go. Unfortunately the race had already gone.
Desperate to make up lost time and places, I sprinted off down the track. Luckily the pack hadn’t got too far away. I zeroed in on the back markers and quickly started making up places. All was going well until the first climb, upon which an Internal Systems Failure warning sounded loud in my head.
My heart rate had breached the maximum number of allowed beats per minute, and was signalling to me – mostly through my burning legs – that I should politely pull over to the side of the course, and collapse. Ignoring the warning, I carried on in the hope that the completion of this lap would see my legs feeling better, but they instead got gradually worse as the miles passed.
The course began with a great bit of singletrack. It weaved, ducked and split through the trees. Care had to be taken on the greasy roots as the fast flowing river only a few metres away was not a tempting option, and thick undergrowth was the only place to overtake slower riders.
As always, the good stuff didn’t last as the course changed direction and pointed towards the summit of Newnham Park. Not a big climb, but the sticky mud seemed to slow the pace right down (for me anyway) and the climb took forever. It was also psychologically damaging to know that in reverse this bit of trail is one of the best descents in Newnham Park.
Reaching the top, the course followed some well-worn singletrack and necessary linking fireroad, until we dropped into the Zig-Zag descent. Popular with riders and the large assembled crowd, it features two hairpins. The only approach to negotiate these corners has to be fast, ragged and on the edge!
Credit should go to Adam Crisford for completing the race despite breaking his front brake lever in an unexpected (and unwanted) collision with the ground at around this point.
A final 30mph descent, through a chicane and you’re across the finish line. A 15 minute lap would put you on the quick side of fast, with 20 being a more average pace.
ason Flooks (Certini) was the fastest rider of the day, winning the Expert class by three minutes from Chris Green (Southfork Cycles), with Llewellyn Holmes taking third place.
In the Masters class Darren Shepard (Tri-UK) and Pete Dawe battled over four laps for the win. Early in the race it looked like Pete had the win sewn up, but a late charge by Darren saw him take the lead, and the win. Andy Carnell (Shred/Cove) must be tired of the third podium spot by now, he’ll be hoping to finish higher at the next race.
By winning the Sport race by a healthy margin, Jay Horton avoided all the action behind for second place. Behind him, four riders were in a tight sprint for the line – Matt Loake took second, Robert Smail in second, third for Hal Fade and Chris Cowling (AC Cowling Repairs) in fifth.
Making the trip from Yeovil, Nick Evans represented Yeovil Cycling Club well with a first place in the Veterans class. David Drake, alone in the Grand Veteran class, obviously claimed first place.
The new Open class is growing in popularity every round, with the focus on fun rather than points being very attractive to many people. Gary Jennings (justride.co.uk) took yet another win, but probably never realised how close Austin Fairly (Bridport) was, a mere 12 seconds behind.
The rider of the day prize must surely go to Papa Dave (Team Chodski). Racing in both the morning Fun race and topping it off with an entry into the later Open race, he was certainly the enduro king of the day.
The next and final round of the Soggy Bottom series takes place at Newnham Park on 6 March. Details and entry forms at www.inevent.co.uk/soggybottom.Pictures from Simon Kirk: www.pbase.com/simonkirk/round_4. More action from JustRide www.justride.co.uk.