Last weekend saw host the final round of the UK’s premier XC Series, the 2019 HSBC UK National Cross-Country Series. The venue for this closing round would be Thickthorn near Norwich, a venue which has hosted previous regional rounds of the MSG series and it was set to be a scorcher!
As per usual I made the trip up to the venue on the Friday afternoon, in preparation for the practice sessions on the Saturday. A 200mile 3-hour drive turned into a 4-hour drive in the Friday night traffic but I was glad to get it out the way and not have to worry about travelling far to venue in the morning.
I arrived at Thickthorn shortly before the Saturday morning practice and it was already 25 degrees! By the time I was ready to head out on the track it was approaching 30, I was so pleased I wasn’t racing till Sunday. I didn’t need to ride the course to tell it was a flat, but when I did head out, I realised exactly how flat it was. There were virtually no climbs, just the odd short sharp sprint up an embankment. In a way I guess this would suit me, not being an all-out climber and leaning more towards the time trailing side of the riding spectrum. However, there weren't many technical elements to the course either, it was made up of predominantly flat wide-open grass fields, so working together and conserving your energy was going to be key, a bit like a road crit. Due to the simplistic nature of the course I got it dialled pretty quickly and spent most of the afternoon just riding for a bit of fun.
Following practice and course closure I started to suffer with a runny nose and sneezing fits, something I put down to hay fever due to the high pollen count and warm weather. However, it continued to develop throughout the evening even in doors, it was then I realised it was a virus. It was only early stages though so I was hopeful after a good meal and nights rest it would be gone by the morning.
Sunday rolled around and it was an early get up, in order to have breakfast and make it to the venue in time for the only practice session of the day at 10am. Unfortunately, upon waking up, my virus was much worse, developing within my head and nose and extending to my chest and throat area, this wasn’t good news! I didn't even concider not racing, having had a DNF at the previous rounds I needed some points for the series. As I headed out to practice my nose cleared, but my throat remained sore and my HR higher than usual. I didn’t know how this was going to affect my performance in the race but there was only one way to find out.
After the usual 3 hour break and the warm up procedures complete it was time to line up. I had a relatively low gridding position due to my previous DNF but I still ended up on the second row so it wasn’t all bad; plus the flat nature of the course meant being mid pack off the start wasn’t necessarily a bad thing as you could shelter in the wheels.
Throughout the first half of the lap, the field stayed bunched up, very much like a peloton with lines of riders constantly moving up and down. As we headed into the tech single track section, I put in an effort in order to sit in a good position around 5th place. Immediately my HR spiked higher than usual as a result of my virus and I was in the red sticking with the pack. As we exited the woods and onto the flat grass again, I just couldn’t maintain the required level of intensity so lost touch with the four in front of me and got passed by 3 more. I was left sitting in 8th position, on my own in between two groups. I didn’t have enough in the legs to bridge the gap and knew I would eventually blow up and be caught if I stayed out on my own, so I backed it off and let the group behind catch me.
Over the next 4 laps we worked well together, slowly closing the gap to the group in the front. As we headed into the last lap, one of the riders within my group dropped a chain. I took this opportunity to break away on my own, however I thought we had another two laps left so I paced myself accordingly, half expecting to be caught again on the final lap and entertained a sprint finish. The group behind were still working together and were indeed closing the gap. As we entered the arena, much to my surprise, I heard the commentator say that the Experts were finishing this lap. Luckily, I had managed to maintain a gap ahead of the group behind and crossed the line in 8th... PHEW!
After the race I was totally drained, the combination of maximal effort, the heat and the virus had totally wiped me out. I circled around the arena, taking on board extra fluid as well as pouring water over myself to cool me down. I didn’t have much time to rest and recuperate though as I needed to get packed up and away as I had a 3.5 hour drive home ahead.
During the long drive home, I had plenty of time to reflect on the race and I kept replaying the point where I lost touch with the leading 7 in my head. I felt really good toward the end of the race so I was annoyed I didn’t make it across but there’s nothing I can do about it now. As always, I like to take some positives away from the weekend, I put in solid performance and utilised all my body would give me to get some series points and register the required third round finish for a solid overall series position. This should place me within the top 10 overall and give me a good position for the start of next year’s series.
Focus now switches the regional series as I look to secure an overall podium placing and that race win which had eluded me all year. We also have the National Championships come the end of July which will be my first ever elite level race, excited to experience the pace of the pros and see how I stack up!
Unfortunately, as I write this blog 3 days after the race, my virus is worse and is not shifting. I am hopeful after a few days rest it will clear in time for the regional round this coming weekend. If I’m not 100% it could be a no go!
To end this blog I would like to thank all the people who supported me throughout this national series: family, friends, fellow riders and of course all my loyal sponsors. It’s been a great first national season for me and I couldn’t have done it without them so thank you. We’ve now to focus on preparing and improving for the season next year.