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  • Writer's pictureTom Knight

Cannock Chase Winter Classic 2020

We’re back, for the past 5 months I’ve been hibernating in my pain cave getting ready for the 2020 season. Things were meant to kick off a few weeks ago, but thanks to Ciara and Dennis (UK Storms) plenty of events have unfortunately been cancelled, however this weekend we got a break and thanks to the efforts of the race organisers, the racing was on! We wouldn’t quite get away storm free, with strong winds, hail and rain making appearances throughout the week and event.

With plenty of racing scheduled for Sunday, practice time would be limited so I decided to get some sighting laps in on the Saturday. The recent weather had made the normally rideable in all conditions Cannock extremely muddy and some sections were close to un-rideable. I was hopeful that following a dry night and some more riders on course that things would clear up. The course would utilise the usual mix of off-piste trails and A-line technical features but nothing too extreme. The course profile was relatively flat but the conditions meant there was no place to rest, if you stopped pedalling you literally stopped! Following a couple of laps I called it a day and went home.

Cannock Chase, Winter Classic, XC, Intense Cycles

I rolled up to the race early afternoon on Sunday and would you believe it, the sun was out. Having practiced the previous day I signed on, did my final bike prep and then sat down for some lunch and watched some of the early racing. I could tell by looking at the riders on course that conditions were still pretty bad, people had told me some sections were also un-rideable. I was considering changing my tyre choice but decided to stick with what I had practiced on and knew; Racing Ray front and Racing Ralph rear. With 30 minutes to go until race start, I put on my new race kit and jumped on the rollers to get warmed up. The race would be gridded on a first come first serve basis so I knew I had to be at the start early. I compromised my warm up to get there early, but unfortunately the race start was delayed by 30 minutes. I tried to keep warm as best I could whilst waiting, but by the time we lined up on the start I was pretty cold and my warm up had faded. Here we were though, months of preparation, new bike, new kit and new competition, it was time to see how we stacked up!

Cannock Chase, Winter Classic, XC, Intense Cycles

Out of the blocks, I broke traction on the grass and got squeezed out against the barriers, but around the first corner and up the next straight I made up a few places and was sitting 5th wheel as we hit the single track. As soon as we hit the single track I realised how bad the course conditions had become; things hadn’t cleared up as I thought, in fact they had gotten worse. I was struggling for grip and could tell it would be a real slog and test of technical ability. Throughout the course of the first lap my lack of warm up showed, I lost a few places and some valuable time on the leaders, crossing the line after lap one in 8th place. Halfway through the second lap though I started to warm up and settle into a strong pace, starting to claw back some time. Over the course of lap 2 and 3 I made up some good positions and was back in 5th place at the start of lap 4. It was on lap 4 I started to hit the back markers which was pretty challenging, the course conditions and ruts made getting out of the way tricky for them, they did the best they could though and I continued to make good time. At the end of lap 4 I could see 4th place only a few seconds ahead of me and I was confident I could keep up the pace and overtake them. Unfortunately the last lap was a bit messy, a number of lappers crashed in front of me causing me to stall a few times, disrupting my rhythm and letting 4th place get away. Despite the mishaps, I kept focused and pushed onto the line, placing 5th overall in the Elite Category.

Cannock Chase, Winter Classic, XC, Intense Cycles

I felt pretty drained after the race, I’d given it everything I had on the day and it was great to see progress has been made, mixing it with the Pro/Elite racers however I still wasn’t very satisfied with my performance. There are still some pieces of the puzzle missing and areas we can improve, but that’s the point of these early season races. Making sure you’re not only peaking physically but every part of your programme is at its best when it really counts. Having reviewed things over the past few days, I know where we can improve and there were plenty of positives to take away. All things considered though, this was a positive result for the first race of the season and one we can certainly build of as we head into the Regional and National series.

I gave it everything I had physically on the day and my pacing was spot on, holding very consistent lap time, reeling places back lap by lap to the finish. I felt I rode well technically; maintaining decent pace and flow in tricky conditions and keeping it mostly on two wheels.

Cannock Chase, Winter Classic, XC, Intense Cycles

My new programme, new kit and new bike, the Intense Sniper XC, all performed faultlessly throughout the tough conditions and looked awesome whilst doing it, even if I do say so myself. A massive thanks goes to all my sponsors for their support, it’s great to get things underway with a solid platform we can build on. On wards and upwards from here and I’m excited for the rest of the season.

I now have a week off, to re-group, re-build and prepare for the next race, the first round of the Midlands XC series on the 15th March at one of my favourite venues Dudmaston Woods. Hopefully Caira, Jorge and their friends are done for the year and we have some better weather conditions for this one, although having said that I don’t mind the rain, so bring it on whatever the weather!!

Onto the next one!

Cheers, Tom

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