So the year 2019 has almost been and gone. As we enter into the depths of winter festivities I completed my last race, so lets sit down around the log fire with a hot chocolate and reflect on the seasons past.
In the early part of the year, focus was still on pre-season training. I changed coach and headed abroad for a training camp in Sierra Nevada, Spain. The terrain was much more mountainous than my previous camp in Majorca so it led to a tough week with a lot of elevation gain. As always with Spain, the roads were super smooth and the weather was spot on, so all the miles, although painful, were enjoyable. The camp, combined with changes to my training programme and style, meant I headed into the season's opening races feeling on top form.
This season was my first in the Expert category so although I had prepared well I was still apprehensive as to how I would get on with the additional pace and longevity of this new category. My first event of the season, the Thetford Winter Series, went very well and I earned my first podium of the year! This was a real confidence boost and a sign I was in a good place physically.
Next up would be the beginning of my national series campaign at Round 1 in Sherwood Pines. As I was new to this category I was ranked low and would be placed at the back of the grid so I knew that this would be a race of progressing through the pack, setting up a decent starting position for the rest of the series and thankfully I managed to do this, placing 12th. At the next round I was able to capitalise on this grid position and finish a few places higher in 8th despite being hindered by some mechanical issues and a dropped chain on the first lap. Similar issues would be a consistent theme for the rest of the series. At round 3 I crashed and broke my gear shifter, forcing me to retire, and at the final round I had a virus which significantly impacted my performance.
My goals coming into the series were to place top 5 overall with the aim of moving to elite for 2020. Unfortunately I wasn't able to achieve this, instead placing 8th overall. Still, not bad for my first season and a platform we can really build on to achieve that elite placing for 2021.
My national campaign would draw to a close with the 2019 HSBC National Cross Country Championships, my first Elite level national, hosted at my local proving ground, Cannock Chase. This was a great opportunity to line up against the UK's fastest racers and see how much work I had left to do before I stepped up! I gave it everything I had and showed some good pace for the first half of the race but faded during the final few laps, managing an 18th place finish. I was happy with this but it highlighted there was certainly a bit more physical preparation needed to be competitive at that level.
Around the national series I competed in multiple regional level mountain bike events, mostly rounds of the Midlands XC Series. I had mixed success at these events, again being affected by illness and mechanical issues. I did however manage to get myself a podium and a number of top 5 finishes, landing a top 4 overall series finish which I was pretty pleased with all things considered.
In addition to the mountain bike events, I competed in a number of other cycling and non-cycling events with some great success. A 3rd place finish at the Berry Fields CX and Warwick Town Centre Crit would complete the discipline podium trio, something I am stoked with! I also had podiums in both of the off road duathlon events I have completed in most recently. These duathlons were a new venture for me this year and something I entered on a bit of a whim, something to keep my body and mind ticking without solely racing bicycles. Heading into the first one I didn't have any expectations, but I really enjoyed it so entered another one more recently. My focus remains on mountain biking but I may do some more duathlons in the future.
With a bit of a flat season mountain bike-wise the highlight for me has to be my podium at the Wawrick Town Centre Crit. Racing with and in front of a lot of my cycling club friends was amazing and to acheive a podium for them was extra special! Also being right in the centre of Warwick town on a closed course meant the crowds and atmosphere was great and really got you fired up to race. I will definitely be heading back to this event next year if I can.
So on the face of it, having not achieved my ultimate goal of making it to elite maybe this season shouldn't be considered a success...... but I think there are multiple reasons why I think this season has been a success. I feel like I made some really good progress over the off season and came in prepared, with this season highlighting that need a little more time to get ready for that next level; I am feeling very confident that next year I will be right up there again. I've kept my focus despite the challenges I have faced, landing multiple podium results when things have come together but more importantly performed consistently to land some decent overall results - not too far off my target!
Of course, all of the above would not be possible without a very committed and helpful team around me, so let the roll call begin!
I would like to firstly thank my family for their support, not only for the support at events but being so accepting of the entire journey. A lot of work and time goes in this journey behind the scenes and we all make sacrifices.
Secondly, thank you to all of my partners who have invested in my this season, providing support to enable me to train and perform at my very best. Halo Wheels, ODI, HT, Schwalbe Tyres UK, Santacruz Bicycles UK, PD Financial Management, TORQ Fitness and Dynamic Rides, Thank you!
With 2019 done and dusted, focus has now switched to the 2020 season. I am deep into the depths of winter training and have a great programme of sponsors behind me for next year. Expect news on my partners and plans for 2020 early in the new year!
Merry Christmas & Happy New Year!