I am sat writing this blog shortly after British Cycling announced a blanket cancellation on all affiliated events up until the 30thApril. Although this is sad and disappointing, it was without doubt the right call and the health and wellbeing of our family and friends is of upmost importance. It does however highlight the seriousness of the situation so I would like to start this blog by saying stay calm, think rationally, adhere to government/NHS advice and look out for each other. If we do this, we will be back riding and racing healthily in no time.
Luckily, before this announcement was made, I managed to line up for my second event of the season, the opening round of the Midlands XC Series at Dudmaston. A favourite venue of mine but one which has delivered varying results for me from wins to DNFs. My build up to this event was less than ideal too, having continued to carry a virus from the week before (not coronavirus may I add!) I took multiple days off the bike but still wasn’t able to shift it come the race, however the show had to go on!
I arrived at the venue around 11am in order to sign on, kit up and get out on a practice. I was caught out by some new timetable changes which meant I had to quickly skip round the lap with very minimal time to scope lines and passing points. Luckily though the course at Dudmaston isn’t too technical and was very similar to previous years. The course was made up of the traditional four climbs, all about a minute long and each followed by a nice flowing decent. Conditions at Dudmaston are usually dry and sandy, no matter what the weather. However due to recent storms this time it was very muddy in places and bone dry in others. This made tyre choice pretty tricky - I decided to change from the Racing Ralph combo to Racing Ralph rear and Racing Ray front to give me that extra front-end grip and confidence.
The new timetable meant there was a little more time between practice and race start, added to by some minor delays. However, there was plenty of exciting racing and commentary that the time soon passed and it was time to get kitted and warmed up. During my warm up the heavens opened for a short period, laying down a fresh layer of water which caused the drying course to become pretty slick in sections. I was confident with my tyre choice though so stuck with it. Shortly after my warm up it was time for gridding. I was gridded well this year after last years results so got a good spot on the front row of the expert cat, albeit behind the elite category who had lined up first.
From the whistle, I briefly missed my pedal and then got caught up behind the guy in front of me so lost a few meters of critical space. I tried to make up some places down the start straight by going on the grass but that just instantly sapped my speed. I quickly jumped back onto the gravel and held my current position as we entered to first climb. I made up a few positions up and over the first climb sitting about 7th wheel, 3rd in cat. As we hit the first single track I stayed on the back of the pack but I could see gaps were opening up out front, highlighting the importance of track position. As soon as we got to next open section things exploded and the pace increased dramatically; I pushed on as hard as I could but ended up getting caught behind another rider who let the wheel go and the gap to the front two riders opened up further. Regardless, I just keep focused and settled into my own pace, ticking off consistent laps times as this is usually a strong point of mine. I managed to make up another position or two over the next lap but then on lap 3 disaster stuck. I dropped a chain exiting one of the technical descents, and as I got of the bike to replace it I knocked my Garmin off too. I tried to remain calm and focused, not to panic, but in the heat of the moment all you want to do is get back on track. After what always feels like an age, I was back up and running but I had lost about 15-20 seconds of time on the two leaders. I dug deep for the remaining 2 laps to try and rectify this and I did make up some time. Unfortunately though, I would run out of laps to close the gap completely and crossed the line in 3rd place.
Being a racer, I want to win, so was a little frustrated with this and the mishaps that had occurred. But on the plus side, it’s a good place to start the series; a sign the form and potential are there once we eliminate the mishaps and head into a race 100% healthy, which fingers crossed I will be once I get back to racing.
Once the racing had ended it wasn’t long before I got called for my first podium of the season. It’s always a proud moment getting to stand on the podium, to represent and reward all of the people and companies who support me. Of course it’s some recognition and reward for all of the hours training I put in too. I am still full of motivation and drive to carry on training and be ready for when we return!
Congratulations and well done to the organisers of the Midlands XC series for getting the race up and running in the current climate, it was as well run and organised as ever and I highly recommend the series to everyone from beginners to pro racers.
It may be sometime until my next blog, but in the meantime, as I said at the start of this blog, take care of yourselves and I’ll see you on the trails soon.