Last weekend was host to Round 1 of the HSBC National XC Series, the first national for over a year and half, and my first Elite National competition. The selected venue was Woody’s Bike Park, located in Fowey, Cornwall - a first-time venue for both the National Series and myself.
Being on the beautiful south coast of Cornwall, I decided to head down a few days earlier and make a mini holiday of the trip. I used to go down to Cornwall each year as a child so it was a great opportunity to relive the memories and head to the beach and sea side towns.
My first trip to the race venue was on Friday evening for a track walk; I don’t usually do track walks but given this was a completely new venue I thought it was worth checking out, and boy did it look good.
The course would go up and down the hill twice, featuring some awesome flowy descents consisting of big berms, floaty tabletop drop-offs and rock gardens, followed by a grueling and winding climb back up to the top. I spent the next hour checking out all the features, picking my lines and considering what bike setup I would run. I was confident with my choices, the course looked amazing and I couldn’t wait to ride it come Sunday!
Due to Covid I was not able to practice on Saturday, but this actually worked out quite well since the weather was abysmal! Gone was the sun and in came horrible misty rain, so an hour and half practice before the race was enough for me.
Come Sunday, the sun was back and in full force, whoop! I arrived at the venue around 10am to get set up and ready ahead course practice. I set up the pits, gave the INTENSE Sniper a final once over and had a chat with my coach, Jon Fearne from E3 Coaching. With so much climbing on the course it was key to practice smartly and conserve my energy where I could. I did a couple of practice loops, primarily focusing on the technical areas and dialling my lines, taking it easy on the climbs back to the top. Two laps was enough.
With practice over, and racing not for a further 3 hours, it was then time for the anxious wait until the race. I utilised this time to refuel, hydrate, relax, prepare my TORQ race nutrition and go over some race tactics with Jon.
As always, the time soon flies by and with 30 minutes to go it was time to get changed, hop on the rollers, warm up and prepare for gridding. As it was my first Elite National race, I was gridded second from last and on the back row. This was good in a way as it relieved some pressure from the start and hopefully the only way to go was forward. Suddenly, the commissaire announces “any time in the next 30 seconds” and it’s game time.
I actually got a really good start, working my way up into the pack come the first corner, but I was on the inside so got gradually pinched as we approached the corner, impeding my progress. The start was 150m then we were straight into the first descent; this was super hectic, riding so closely to each other, and there were a few near misses but I kept it upright and was sat in around 15th as things settled down.
As soon as we hit the big first climb, the pace really picked up and I was on the verge on going deep into the red. Conscious of the race length and the intense heat, I settled into my own pace. This cost me a few places but I believed in my plan and stuck with it.
The field blew apart pretty quickly and I was soon on my own. This had its pros and cons as it allowed me to focus on my own race but at the same time I didn’t have anything to chase, other that the time gaps Jon was providing me. For the next 4 four laps I plugged away setting consistent lap times, hitting my lines and staying smooth. I could occasionally see the riders up ahead but they weren’t getting any closer and I was starting to question my race approach.
Come lap 5, people were starting to blow up. This was my time to pounce so I pushed up the pace. Over the next lap and half I picked off a few riders and on the final lap I could see another elite rider about 20 seconds ahead. I tried to push on but wasn’t closing the gap quickly enough so I chose to settle back down to ensure I didn’t blow up too! I crossed the line as 16th Elite.
I was pretty happy with this for my first go - I mean, I wasn’t last! Joking apart, I made up quite a few places from start position, I stayed calm and focused and kept to race plan. Most of all though, I learnt a little bit more and came away with some increased confidence for next time. In fact, there were many positives to take away, things which should result in a better placing next time.
The next round is in just under a months time at Monmouth. I have some time to work on a few things and I also have some bike upgrades in the pipeline which will make it faster and lighter. This, combined with my better starting position, should lead to good things. I am excited.
Between now and then though we have a few regional races on the cards, some CX & Road alongside a special project, so keep your eyes peeled for that.
Thanks to my family, sponsors and Jon my coach for all the support at this event. See you at the next one.