“Classic - judged over a period of time to be of the highest quality and outstanding of its kind”
It’s been a minute since my last cross country race; 155 days to be exact. I find the off-season is a period of mixed emotions, a time where you can relax and enjoy the finer things in life, but also a time when you’re left putting in the training hours with no gratification, so I am always super excited when racing comes back around.
This year, as we return to some form of normality, the traditional season kickstarter returned - the Run and Ride Winter Classic XC. This classic event often kicks off the MTB season within the Midlands region and provides the first opportunity for riders to test their legs and equipment early on, myself included as I roll into this year with a lot of new componentry and some fancy new race kit!
The venue for this event has always been the well-known Cannock Chase, a venue that has hosted multiple cross country races and will be home to the 2022 Commonwealth Games planned for August. The area of outstanding natural beauty features an abundance of natural trails, providing a mixture of technical single track, fire roads, and short climbs which run great all year round. All of the above make it the perfect venue for a winter race.
I arrived at the venue on Sunday morning, where it was bustling with a mass of people enjoying the early racing, event catering, and sunny weather. This great atmosphere got me even more excited to be back racing.
Having ridden the course on Friday, I felt well prepared and so decided not to head off for a practice lap, instead choosing to utilise the time to soak up the atmosphere, grab some lunch and catch up with some friends.
The course started at the Tackeroo campsite and took advantage of a lot of the surrounding trails, looping back through the arena multiple times to enable friends and family to keep track of the action. It comprised of mostly tight and technical singletrack, twisting through the local forest, but also featured some fast-paced fire road sections and short gravel climbs. The total course length was 2.8 miles with 330ft of elevation per lap.
Given the recent weather conditions, I’m sure everyone was expecting a mud fest, but Cannock played its ace card and provided mostly dry conditions, although some muddy sections deeper in the woods made tyre selection tricky.
Before too long, it was time to get changed into my riding gear and get ready to race! After a short warm-up, I gathered by the start area ready for the dash to the grid. I’d compromised on my warm-up in order to ensure I was in front of the queue to grab a spot on the front row, giving me chance for the holeshot and keeping me out of trouble.
Off the line I didn’t get a great start, but managed to brake later and dive down the inside of the first corner, coming out in second spot. From here it was a drag race to the single track and I made sure I was first as we dropped in, allowing me to pick my lines and pace, and enabling me to open a gap as we hit the first climb. I continued to push throughout the first lap and managed to open up a gap of around 30 seconds. From lap 2 onwards, I settled into a controlled pace, monitoring the time gaps every time I went through the arena.
Due to the nature of the course, come lap 3 of 5 I started to run in quite a few lappers; where you catch up with them is often luck but I did my best to measure my efforts and pass in some good places. Most people were very accommodating, letting me through wherever possible which is always much appreciated! Despite a few hold-ups I was able to continue to increase my lead and head into the final lap with a decent time gap.
At this point I thought I had a technical issue, something loose in the rear end of my bike, so I decided to back off the pace on the descents to try and ease it home. This was a bit nerve-wracking, but once I dropped out of the final single track and onto the last fire road, I knew I was home and dry. I breathed a sigh of relief and pushed up the final climb to the finish, crossing the line and taking the win. Stoked!
Needless to say, I am pretty happy with this result - getting a win to kick off the season is great and shows the hard work does pay off. Hopefully, this is just the beginning as we build into race form with a big block of training in Majorca ahead of the National Series.
Before then, we have the Hope Crank It XC and The Dirty Nocka, another fantastic event organised by Mayer Active and Run & Ride, so if you enjoyed this one be sure to get signed up! Thanks to Matt and the team for putting on another great event and getting 2022 kicked off in style.
Thanks for reading!