It’s not often you get the chance to ride with a group of talented national elite level mountain bikers, but last week Bikemagic leapt at just such an opportunity
Assembling at a not-so-secret trail south of London, Scott Forbes (National Masters XC champion) had pulled together a group of local riders who all happened to be exceedingly quick. Just how quick I didn’t fully comprohend until I pulled into the car park to the sight of race spec bikes being lifted from bike racks and skin tight Lycra being pulled on. This could hurt, I thought to myself as I parked the car.
The names were a giveaway though. To reel of just a couple of them, we had the 2011 Montane Kielder winner Ben Thomas, 2010 national junior champion Steve James, six times Xterra world cup winner and twice masters national champion Sam Gardner, and another six other riders with equally impressive palmarès.
Nervously, I got myself ready. Final preparations to my bike made, tyres inflated, a couple of gels stuffed in a pocket (I figured I might be need them today) and clicking a GoPro Hero video camera into place, the ride got underway. Luckily for me, these guys are enjoying some time away from the pressures of racing, and before they embark on some serious training through the winter, this was one of those rare relaxed ‘let’s just ride for fun’ days. Phew.
That pace was still hot however. I had to work hard to keep up. At times it felt harder than any cross-country race I had ever done. But we were all smiling from ear to ear, enjoying the fantastic trails and there was plenty of shared stories from the past season. We hit a couple of sessions repeatedly, worked different lines, the technique constantly being worked on.
Before this ride I had no idea what it would be like. But away from intensity of a race, they’re just as down to earth as you like, approachable and friendly, and there’s no egos on show. They take their riding seriously, that much is true, but the one thing that came through the most was just how much fun and joy they got out of riding their mountain bikes. It seems the one key to riding fast is to first enjoy it. The rest will come.
But boy can they shift. And not only in the areas you’d expect them to, over the fast stuff and up the hills, but they were eye-wateringly fast through all of the technical bits, and even happy to throw down some style over a set of jumps. Cross-country race demands all-round skills; speed, stamina, bike handling, endurance, and they had it all on display today. It was an eye-opening experience, a unique insight into the world of the top-level cross-country racing elite. A fun day out.
The bike ridden was a Scott Spark Expert 29er fitted with Reynolds XC29er Carbon wheels and Bontrager mud tyres. Here’s the video I managed to get during brief moments when I wasn’t gasping for oxygen.