Last weekend saw the first round of the 2019 Midlands XC series - the grassroots racing series of the Midlands region in which I also cut my teeth since I started racing XC 2 years ago. The first round would take place right in the city centre of Sheffield at the Park Wood Springs Urban MTB park which has been a feature in the series for a few years.
The weather leading into the event was awful with rain predicted throughout the week and the weather on the day wasn’t predicted to be any better. With that in mind I was expecting a repeat of the bog scenarios from last year’s race so I prepared the bike and fitted the Schwalbe Rocket Ron tyres. Although the conditions were expected to be wet and muddy I was really looking forward to it, I love racing the mud as it adds that extra technical element and the opportunity to get your drift on and have fun!
The forecast continued to deteriorate closer to the day with 50+ mph wind gusts and heavy rain. Numerous other cycle events were being cancelled but the resilient organisers and racers still pulled through and the event went ahead. Conditions on the day weren’t anywhere near as bad as predicted or I expected, with the ground being mostly dry, causing me to reconsider my tyre choice and revert back to the Racing Ralph and Ray combo. The threat of rain loomed in the sky but it never materialised bar a few light showers.
Unlike the Nationals, the Midlands events are held over just one day, with short practice sessions being held prior to each race. With the senior practice not until 1pm and the race at 3pm it allowed for a lie in, a later start and short day's racing which keeps the missus happy!
I headed out for the short practice session to inspect the course, which confirmed my tyre selection but it was certainly windy. The course started in the middle of the hill and climbed all the way to the exposed peak where you were very susceptible to strong gusts. From there it descended down the man made DH and Dual slalom tracks which were fun, and then it was a short climb back up to finish level and across a wide open field which was hard going in the wind.
Overall the course was short at around 14 minutes a lap, but the organisers had done a good job making the most of the hillside, combining a number of natural and man made elements.
With the shortened schedule and the practice being much closer to the event the race quickly came around. I much prefer this than the hours of waiting around at the National XC rounds.
As it was the first round of the series the gridding was meant to be based on BC rankings however it appeared to be much of a free for all; luckily I was paying attention and got myself on the front row.
From the gun I struggled to get clipped in, something that’s happened to me a few times recently and something I must focus on during training moving forwards. Due to this I slipped back quite a few places to around 9th but worked hard during the first lap to make up those positions crossing the line in 5th Place to start lap 2. I was having a good battle with the 3rd and 4th guys as we traded positions multiple times over the course of the next 2 laps. Come to the start of lap 3 things started to spread out, the 3rd place guy had broken my tow and I had generated a gap over 5th place. It was at this point I started to fade, which surprised me as I am usually pretty strong and consistent across the whole race, making positions up towards the end of the race. On the final two laps my legs were really suffering and I actually lost a place on the final lap, ending up 5th.
I had been battling an illness during the Easter period for which I had taken a few days off training to recover from during the run in to the event. I think this combination of illness and time out led to big drop in endurance performance toward to end of the race. This was bad timing and really frustrating as had I been on form I could have bagged my first Expert podium! However peaks and troughs in form are common for an athlete and it’s all part of the racing experience. We’ve learnt from it so that’s a positive.
5th place isn’t a bad result upon reflection, it places me in a good series position and should get me a first row start at the next round to move forward and improve once my form has returned.
I would like to take the opportunity to highlight what a great event and course the organisers of the Midlands XC series put together and I would highlight recommend the series to anyone looking to get into XC racing. If you're interested in getting involved check out details here.
It’s a few weeks now until the next round of the series, with the 3rd round to the National Series taking place the week prior. Both of these races are at my regular training ground, Cannock Chase, so I am really looking forward to them! Hopefully my local knowledge and the familiar surroundings will assist in a good performance.
Until then I am looking forward to having a weekend off racing, getting out with my cycling club and sponsor Dynamic Rides (www.dynamicrides.co.uk) as well as heading to the Peak district for a mini break making the most of the bank holiday.