Midlands XC Series - Round 2
Last weekend played host to round 2 of the Midlands XC series at Cannock Chase; following the disappointment last time out at the National I had a point to prove.
The weather again was kind to us for this one; the sun was out producing temperatures just below 20 degrees as I headed out on course for the morning practice, perfect!
The trails were dry/dusty and very loose. Cannock is made up of sand and pebbles so when the course is dry it’s like riding on marbles (or anti grip as it’s known) so it was just as challenging as a wet race. Luckily, being my local training ground, I have had plenty of practice riding in those conditions so I was comfortable on the loose surface.
The course was a good one, made up fast flowy trails, fresh cut loam sections, long fire roads and steep short climbs so there was something for everyone. Over the course of practice, I did a couple of easy laps, focusing on line scoping and learning the course route and profile rather than speed. After an hour or so I had everything sorted so called it a day for lunch.
After a few ham sandwiches and bananas, it was time to get race ready. I really enjoy this period shortly before the race, when its time to warm up and channel those pre - race nerves into focus and positive energy.
I listened to some music to get me focussed whilst warming up on the rollers. My coach had identified a few areas for improvement during my warm up from my pervious races so I implemented those and was looking forward to seeing if they would work as we hoped.
As we waited to be gridded, there was a call for Expert/Elite riders to the front and everyone just proceeded to the start line. I was caught off guard expecting them to call out names individually in series order so I ended up on the poor side of the start grid, covered in gravel and on the outside of the first corner.
I tried to block this out of my mind and focus on executing the type of starts I’d been practicing. My initial snap was OK, but once clipped in, I laid down the power around the outside and led out down the first straight and into the single track. This was great; I could control the pace and pick my lines clearly. I managed to hold my pace and string out the competition for just over half a lap, at which point a couple of competitors came past. These were the eventual winners of the Junior and Expert men’s categories. I decided not to out in an effort and chase, just focus on keeping my own pace. I and another guy worked together over the next 3 laps, taking it in turns to pull/draft to generate a gap over 4th place. For these 3 laps I’d make an effort to ensure I led in the technical sections of the course, however on the penultimate laps I chose not to and this would be my down fall. He would squeeze by a lapper and I would end up getting caught behind, only for a few seconds but it allowed him to generate a small gap. He would attack on the next climb and the battle for second was over. I kept the gap consistent over the course of the final lap and cross the line in 3rd, 12 seconds behind.
I am of course happy with this, it felt great to get my first Expert podium and be battling up there with the guys who place top 5 nationally. A real confidence boost for the next round and moving forwards. I said on my social posts that everything finally came together, starts, tactics and form; this is true to an extent given my experiences in previous races, however, upon reflection there are areas to improve and lessons to be learn as there always will be.
I shouldn’t have given away track position as I did, I can’t guarantee things would have worked out how I pictured but it’s always preferable to lead in the single-track sections for reasons that occurred. I will make sure to improve on this in future.
Overall though it was a much better performance and closer to the level I know I am capable of, it shall provide a good confidence boost as I move into the second half of the season.
It’s only a short two-week break until the next Midlands XC round, which also happens to be the Midland Regional Championships. Between now and then I am going to take a mini break off the bike over the Bank holiday weekend which I am looking forward to, then its straight back into it!
To end this blog, I would like to thank my family and sponsors for their continued support. Behind every successful athlete is a whole team of people and companies supporting them along the way, I am very privileged to have the best support in the business, thanks guys!