Round 3 of the HSBC UK National Cross Country Series took place last weekend at one of my favourite venues, Cannock Chase. Being my local trail and regular training spot I was really looking forward to racing there and hoped it may even provide me with a slight home advantage.
The weather leading into the event was very wet and on my last training ride the trails were in a pretty bad way, littered with massive puddles and boggy sections. Luckily the weather improved for the weekend, with bright sunshine occurring on both days.
I headed to the venue for practice on the Saturday and the trails had dried out significantly, however certain areas of the course which had been recently felled were still very soft and greasy. This caused the trails to deteriorate quite a bit, with deep ruts forming in a number of sections which were challenging to ride so you really need to have your wits about you.
Having ridden a lot of the course sections before I felt at home pretty quickly, nailing the A lines and generally having fun. The newly felled soft sections of the course constantly changed
throughout practice as more and more riders hit the course. I knew this would continue across the weekend so I was expecting things to be a little different come Sunday but I felt at home on course.
With three laps done, including some efforts to get the body going it was time to clear the course for the Saturday races and head home. As with round 1 of the series, the venue was close enough for me to stay at my own home which was nice; it’s great to have those home comforts prior to an event.
Heading into to Sunday I felt confident and was looking forward to racing. With a quick fire lap of practice complete in the morning it was time for the usual long wait. It wasn’t too bad this time, with the weather being much nicer than the previous rounds it was a nice opportunity to relax and watch some of the pre races in the sun.
Unexpectedly I got called up on the front row of the grid, my first time in national level competition. Following the sound of the whistle I got my best start of the year, the practice since round 2 having paid off. I headed out of the start arena in sixth spot but managed to make up a spot and jump onto the back of the top five after the first climb. I focused on sticking with them and manged to do so for the first half of the lap. This was going well until they kicked past a slower rider into a single track section and I got caught up behind them - by the time I got past they’d gapped me. I was on the limit but it would have been nice to see exactly how long and if I could have stayed with them. By this point we were heading into the final quarter of the lap and into the fresh rutted section I mentioned earlier, I made it through every time in practice but this time something went wrong as I tucked my front wheel and went over the bars. I got up straight away and grabbed my bike, I noticed the bars were out of line but I was able to compensate and carry on. Shortly after remounting my gears started playing up and I felt my shifter moving every time I changed gear. This got worse and worse but I’d already gone past the tech zone so I was hoping to complete lap two and stop to straighten my bars and get things sorted on my next pass. Unfortunately as I headed toward the end of the fast fire road section into a tight corner, as I braked and went to shift down a number of gears, my shifter completely came off the bars. With no way of changing gear and being so far away from tech I was forced to retire. Absolutely gutting.
It’s hard to know what to think when situations like this occur, it takes a little while to sink in whilst the adrenaline recedes and then you start having thought process of what if? and what could have been? Which often last for days. Thought processes like this can be positive and used as driver to better performance in the future but can equally become negative if you let them take you in that direction.
I take inspiration from similar events I witness in other sports, like Supercross or Formula 1, when you see the athletes involved instantly putting the event in the past and focusing on the positives from the event or their performance and areas of improvement for next time.
Situations like this, crashes, mechanicals and DNFs are all part of racing and likely happen at least once a season and if I can come out un-injured ready to race again that’s the biggest relief.
There are plenty of other positives I can take from this weekend into the upcoming races, my start was much improved and I was the highest placed I’d been in a national series event, right up there with the top five which gives me a huge confidence boost.
Luckily I don’t have long to wait until I line up again this weekend at the Midlands XC series at the same venue, Cannock Chase. This will be a good opportunity to build on the positives from the weekend and disperse the negative ones by putting in a solid performance. I can’t wait!