Round 3 of the Midlands XC Series would take place at a new venue for the series and myself, Kirton Off Road Centre (KORC) in Gainsborough, near Scunthorpe. This event and venue would also play host to the 2019 Regional Championships, the yearly opportunity to be crowned Midlands XC Champion much like the National Championships.
I arrived at the venue late morning, the sun was shining and the temperatures were high. I set up the Halo Wheels awning, signed on and proceeded to get ready for some practice laps. The course conditions were generally dry, but the course featured a range of different surfaces: grass, clay, gravel and rocky terrain, so there was something for everyone. The profile of the course was pretty flat with only a few steep climbs. There weren’t that many technical features, jumps, drops, rock gardens etc but the tight and twisty layout generated a different type of technical challenge. With practice being short I got one lap in and decided to head back to the pits for some lunch and before I knew it, warm up time!
During my warm the Heavens opened, thankful of the Halo Wheels awning I continued to warm up on the rollers, nice and dry. It was only light rain so I didn’t really think anything of it and kept on my dry weather tyres, Schwalbe Racing Ralph’s.
As we lined up for the start the rain continued to fall, we would be going out to race in unknown conditions. I managed to get a front row spot, even more important at this event, because at the regional champs all of the categories set off together so the start can be more hectic than usual. From the whistle I got a reasonable snap but had left my bike in a too higher gear which hampered my get away, enough to mean I got closed off and entered the first single track around 7th overall. As I mentioned the course was very tight and twisty with limited overtaking opportunities, because of this I got caught behind some slower riders for the first portion of the course which allowed the top guys to pull a gap.
Course conditions on the first lap were sketchy, the sudden downpours onto the hard pack ground had created a fine layer of mud which was very, very slippery proving my decision to remain on the dry weather tyres during my warm up wasn’t the right one. Luckily, I managed to keep the bike on two wheels but had to back off the guy in front to pick the lines with the most grip which increased the difficulty of passing. I eventually manged to get past once the course opened up and pulled a gap with a couple of other riders on my tail, only for them to return the favour a short time later.
One started to pull away, but conscious of going to deep into the red to early on I decided to stick to my pace and stay back with the other rider. I did this for another half a lap whilst I settled into a rhythm and recovered from the start lap. At this point I could see the riders behind starting to close in so I knew I needed to make a move, take the lead and push on towards the end of lap 2.
Throughout the next 2 laps the course dried out and whole field tightened up, I caught the rider in front of me and the rider behind caught up to me. Heading into the final lap we were in a three-way battle for third place. I was sitting second wheel within the group, the lead rider put in a number of attacks trying to generate a gap but I was able to stay with him. The third rider on the other hand was struggling, allowing gaps to open up upon each acceleration, so I was preparing myself for a two way sprint to the finish.
This was until we entered the final woods, up one of the steep inclines my gears suddenly jammed, game over! I’m still not quite sure what the issue was but I had to get of the bike to fix it, I managed to free things up and get moving again but my gears weren’t working at all so I was stuck in the one gear. Luckily, it was mid-range and I had a very healthy gap over the rider behind me so was able to limp home in 5th spot.
Yet again, another race hampered by mechanicals generating mixed emotions. I am of course disappointed that I did not achieve the podium I was confident of achieving and being so close. However, like all race weekends I like to take some positives away, I am showing consistent form, riding where I know I should be up in podium battles. My pacing was spot on and I felt I rode well technically in the tricky conditions and at least I was able to salvage a top 5 finish and some decent points toward the series and BC rankings.
The fact you can have so many things go right and one small mistake can cost you a podium proves how tight racing at this level is and that to do well everything has to be spot on. But that’s the challenge and what makes the successful races so rewarding.
We are over half way through the season now so there only a small handful of opportunities left to get those top results. It’s now a few weeks until my next opportunity following the cancellation of the national round this weekend. Time to relax, get some training and come out swinging, bring it on!