A war of attrition, that’s how I would describe the second round of the UK National XC Series.
The event took place at Sunnybank Farm in Monmouthshire, another new venue for the series and myself. Because of this, and as with the previous round, I headed down to the venue on Saturday afternoon to watch some of the racing and check out the course. Upon arrival, the weather was glorious, very warm and humid, and the course looked bone dry. However, there were murmurs of earlier rain causing havoc in the wooded sections..
The bottom half of the course was open, undulating field, with some sharp climbs and steep descents. The top half of the course featured a long fire road climb, littered with rubble and rocks which led into a long descent through the woodland back to the open. The woodland featured plenty of tight corners and off-camber straights; it was easy to see how this part of the course would become pretty tricky with a little rain as the ground was clay/mud. Having walked the course, with no opportunity to ride it on Saturday, I headed home for some rest in preparation for Sunday.
Sunday came round, and again the weather was spot on. I arrived at the venue about 10am, giving me time to sign on, set up the pits, and check the bike over ahead of practice at 11. Heading out on the course from the pits, it was dry in the field and up the fire road climb, but as you entered the woods the ground conditions were damp and slippery. Overall though, the course was running well, spot on conditions for a dry weather set up of Racing Ralphs.
As per usual I did a couple of laps to get my eye in, and with nothing super technical or challenging, I decided to rest up and save my energy for race time.
The forecast did predict rain later in the day, so I took the time between practice and the race to not only refuel but set up some wet weather tyres (Nobby Nics) on the spare wheels just in case. After some lunch and an hour's rest, it was time to jump on the rollers and warm up. I was getting pretty hot on the rollers due to the sun, but then, with 10 minutes to race start the heavens opened. I wasn’t sure how bad the conditions would be, and with limited time until the race start, I stuck with a dry setup and lined up to race!
I had a decent ranking for this event, placing on the second row in 14th. This didn’t keep me out of trouble though, as it was hectic. I’m not really sure what the issues were but there were a couple of nasty crashes, causing me to slam on the brakes, but luckily I stayed upright and managed to head into the single track around 6th position. I sat in position all the way up the climb, but missed the jump and got boxed in as the battle for entry into the descent began, costing me a few places
As we headed into the descent it became immediately apparent how precarious the rain had made the course as I got caught up behind a crash within the first 10 metres. As I proceed further, there were more crashes limiting my progress. The descent was now technical, slippery and fantastic fun. A I crossed the line on lap one and headed into lap two I sat in 11th position. This lap was about as good as it got; the course was clear and ridable and I got a relatively clean lap in making up a few positions, but from here carnage began. Conditions continued to deteriorate as the course got ridden in and it became littered with bikes and bodies
Come lap 4, the rain had stopped, meaning the course was drying out and the mud was becoming thicker and stickier. By this point, the race organizers had removed all the A-lines for safety reasons and decided to shorten the race due to increased lap times from 9 laps to 7.
On lap 5 I decided to stop and swap over to mud tyres hoping that would help give me a little more grip. This of course cost me a few minutes and a few positions in the process but I was confident I could gain that back. As I hit the descent, I thought I had made a great decision, immediately feeling the increased grip and increasing my confidence. However, it wasn’t long till I hit a traffic jam, and the slow pace meant the mud wasn’t clearing the tyres and the deeper tread just carried increased mud. Soon my bike was totally locked up as the mud build-up behind the frame and forks. Running was now the “quickest” (very slow!) option.
As I headed into the final laps I was getting fed up to be honest; running with your bike isn’t that fun, especially when it weighs twice as much as it should due to the amount of mud, but I really wanted to finish! So I put my head down, pushed on and 7 laps and 2+ hours later, I eventually crossed the line in 8th position.
After the race, I was knackered, but there was another endurance challenge ahead. Getting me, the bike and all the other kit clean enough for the journey home! Luckily, I had my partner, Kat, with me to help tidy up and drive me home. YES!
On the drive home I had time to reflect on the days racing and I was pretty stoked with my race. I got a great start, hanging with the best, I didn’t give up and I bagged my best result yet and my first Elite National top 10. Yes, the conditions were an anomaly, but it was the same for everyone. This has given me a lot of confidence and drive as we head into the rest of the season.
My next big event is the National Champs in 3 weeks’ time, so I have some time before then for another training block and local race or two.
On a final note, well done to everyone who raced and to the organizers/marshals who ran the event in those biblical conditions. You are hardcore.
Thanks for reading,