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  • Writer's pictureTom Knight

HSBC UK National XC - Round 1

Updated: Mar 27, 2019

Here we go then, time to put it all on the line, did I do the volume? Did I dig deep enough? both were going to be answered as I headed into the first round of the National XC Series at Sherwood Pines, Mansfield.

This would be my first National XC race within the Expert category so there were plenty of unanswered questions and a steep learning curve to climb. A new category, new riders, new format and a new schedule added to a weekend already filled with apprehension and excitement.

Knight Racing Pit Space
My 2019 Pit Space!

I arrived at the venue just before midday on the Saturday for the first practice session. The sun was out and the wind was low, good enough conditions for the short kit - perfect! I headed out onto the track and completed a number of laps, taking my time to scope lines, practice technical sections and get a few efforts in to keep the body ticking. This race would be the first time I was able to practice without the racing being in the afternoon, so it was really nice to be able to take my time and focus purely on getting the course and bike setup dialled.

The course was very flat, with only 93ft of elevation across the 3.3mi lap. A mixture of wide open fields, fire road tracks and single track presented very little in terms of challenge technically. I found this disappointing considering this is an event for the best riders in the UK, however the wide open sections and flat profile did present an opportunity to sort out the field for the coming rounds which I guess was the whole point.

The course was very dry and loose, causing me to switch from the Racing Ralph on the front to the Racing Ray for that extra grip. After a few laps of practice with my lines chosen and the minor A lines dialled it was time to pack up and head off. This venue is only an hour or so away from where I live so I decided to accept the extra journey time and stay at home on Saturday night for those extra home comforts.

Tom Knight corning, HSBC UK National Cross Country Sherwood Pines
Photo Credit: Richard Howes Photography

As I’ve already explained this race schedule was new to me so I ensured I arrived in plenty of time on Sunday morning prior to practice. The weather continued to be dry over night, however it was much cooler so I donned the long kit for practice. The race officials had changed the course layout overnight which was a surprise, I can only assume this was done to bring the lap length and times down in line with BC regulation. The course conditions had also changed, with clear lines being established and the loose surface being cleared away throughout Saturday practice. This caused me to re consider my tyre choice and revert back to the Racing Ralph front and rear. There was only time for a quick 20 min practice session and then it was time for the 5 hour wait until race time.

This was again something I wasn’t used to; staying focused and energised over a long period of time was different and challenging, however I think I managed well for first time around, although this will certainly improve over the next few rounds as I identify what works for me.

Soon enough though it was time to get changed, warm up and get back in the zone ready for gridding. It being my first race in Expert, I knew I would gridded towards the rear of the field, penultimate row to be exact, and this would have a heavy influence on my race and tactics. Right from the gun I got stuck behind the riders in front and struggled to make any improvement, made worse by the course which incorporated a 180 degree bottle neck designed the separate the field. This it did almost too well, with anyone outside of the top 10 coming to a standstill as we all tried to filter through.

Tom Knight, HSBC UK National Cross Country Round 1, Sherwood Pines
The Santa Cruz Blurr, Powering up the climb!

Over the course of the opening lap, whilst the field was still bunched up, I managed to make quite a few passes on the wide open sections. Come the start of the second lap I was tagged onto the back of a group of 5 which actually started to pull away from me. I was on the limit and didn’t want to push too hard conscious of the six lap race distance. Over the course of the next two laps that group began to pay the price of the quick start and on lap 5 I managed to work my way past and pull away. For the final lap I was totally solo and I couldn’t see any riders behind me or in front of me so it was just a matter of hitting my lines and maintaining my pace to the finish, eventually crossing the line in 12th Place.

I was pretty pleased with this result actually; despite not being the result I will be ultimately aiming for, it was around where I could see myself placing given where I started. My riding and form were good, displaying all the factors needed for a good season moving forward. The result will also place me much higher up on the grid next round in order to battle it out at the pointy end of the field.

With the first big event of the calendar done and dusted, along with a few other firsts ticked off and learnt from I am really looking forward to season ahead. Bring it on!



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