2018 HSBC National Championships
This was it - the weekend when countries all over the globe host their battle to become national champion. The British Cycling 2018 HSBC National Cross Country Championships would take place on the 2012 London Olympic course in Hadleigh Park, which is rather fitting for one of the biggest events on the domestic calendar.
Having watched the 2012 Olympic XC race, I knew the course would be challenging both technically and physically; so I was keen to get down there early and get some laps in on the Friday evening. Unfortunately 4.5 hours in the car dawdling on the M25 put a stop to that, so an early start the next day was in order to maximise the practice time on Saturday morning.
I arrived at the event about 9am in order to setup the Halo Wheels awning in the pit/team area; even at this time I could tell it was going to be a very hot day! Setting the awning up next to world cup trade teams such as Trek Factory Racing, American Eagle CST & KMC-Ekoï-SR Suntour who’d made to trip over to support their British riders felt pretty special and highlighted the importance of the event.
After setting up it was time to sign on, grab my number board and get on course. As predicted the course was pretty technical with a number of drops, rock gardens and steep shoots littering the course. The climbs were pretty technical too; they weren’t exactly steep or long, but being made up of tight hair pin bends followed by rock steps meant you really needed to maintain concentration whilst at max heart rate. The course was really hard pack following the recent weather so it rolled really quickly but there was a layer of loose sand/gravel on top so you had to maintain a smooth riding style to keep it on two wheels. Too much speed or sudden change of directions could have easily ended up with you in a dusty pile on the floor. These conditions made tyre choice and pressure pretty tricky too.
The most technical feature and the courses party piece was the 50ft rock garden about half way round. I spotted two clear lines that crossed multiple times so there were many options. I spent quite a bit of time riding and observing this during practice to ensure I had the best line and the section dialled, as this was the type of section that could easily end your race. With practice over and two hours till the race, it was time to grab some lunch and stay out of the sun.
Race time! With a top 20 BC ranking I was able to grab a spot on the front row of the grid. From the whistle I struggled to get clipped in initially, dropping pretty far back in the pack by the time we reached halfway down the start straight. With sprints and some inside lines I was able to work my way back into the top 6 by the time the course became a single track. The pace for the first lap was pretty slow in comparison to normal - I think people were very weary of the heat and wanted to settle into the race slowly which I welcomed. Around the halfway point on the first lap I noticed the first two riders were starting to build a gap, so I put in an effort to pass those in front and tagged on. They kept upping the pace and soon we had a decent gap. I was close to going into the red sticking to their wheel though, so being conscious of the weather conditions I let them ride away and settled into my own rhythm, hitting my lines and drinking where ever possible to keep myself hydrated. Towards the end of lap two, the rider in 2nd place dropped a chain so I inherited his position, although he soon got it back in place and still had me in his sights. Over the next few laps I managed to generate a good gap, a couple of minutes or so. This meant I was able to reduce the risk of crashing or suffering a mechanical by taking some of the lesser technical B lines whilst continuing my pace to the finish securing 2nd spot, AT NATIONAL CHAMPS! yes I am happy about it haha!
A short while later and after a post-race warm down it was podium time, so I donned some fresh kit and prepared for the paparazzi! (The missus and her Iphone). This was my first time on a national level podium in XC so I was excited to jump on up and get my hands in the air.
With podiums done it was time to pack up the pits and head home. All in all I think the weekend was a success on many levels; I gained some knowledge about racing and pacing in hot conditions, got to experience riding and racing on a Olympic level course and of course came away with a podium to top it all off.
Next on the race calendar is the final round of the Midlands series including the Midlands championships, so tune in next time to see how that goes!
Thanks for reading!