Being injured for a long period has loads of downsides. In my case not being able to sit down for longer than 30 minutes without being in agony wasn’t fun and not knowing if it would ever get any better was frankly a huge worry. Nerve damage is easy to get but hard to cure. You can’t take anything for it, you just have to wait and hope the nerve isn’t permanently damaged and will start to recover. The good news for me is that 18 months in, nerves heal ridiculously slowly, it did start to improve and I could consider getting active again and back to racing bikes again.
Now I love racing bikes. I love ragging a bike round and round in circles, trying to stay upright and avoiding being lapped. Not that I am any good at it, especially the short stuff. I seem to be just getting going as the chequered flag comes out. But my first tentative steps back into racing would have to be short races, ones that would allow me to see how the injury reacted before pushing my luck too much.
The Midweek MTB Madness Series offered the perfect opportunity with five events at parks and quarries across the North West, each race around an hour in length.
Round One: Leverhulme Park.
The only one of these events that I have done before. A great course that has a bit of everything but unfortunately not the river crossing (loved this bit) from previous years. Steep muddy technical climbs and descents meant that it was a real challenge to ride the full lap without putting a foot down.
I felt good during my warm-up but as soon as the gun went I found myself last in the racer category (compulsory category for those with a British Cycling Race Licence) and then overtaken by all the youth racers and then a good number out of the enthusiast’s category – that started a couple of minutes after I did. That first lap reminded me how much fitness I had lost and I have to say it pissed me off. My mood wasn’t helped by team-mate Phil Simcock lapping me shouting “elite rider on your right!” as he disappeared into the distance 🙂
But after giving myself a stern talking to and reminding myself I was lucky to be back riding at all, I focussed on cranking out the laps, trying to clean the course and having fun.
In the end I was lapped once by most of the racers and twice by the fastest ones. But no crashes and no major injury issues.
Round Two: Chorlton Water Park.
A different course to the previous round with much less climbing and tricky stuff. The gravel path sections demanded caution though as it was easy to wash out the front wheel if you turned in too quick. Next year I would be tempted to take a cross bike as it would suit the course.
My race was similar to the previous one. Swamped at the start and found myself riding pretty much on my own until everyone started lapping me including team-mate Dave Powell on a single-speed – who always found a different way to celebrate the act throughout the series!
I finished at the back of the racer category, lapped twice by the fast boys and girls.
Round Three: Beacon Park.
Having just bought a brand new cross bike I thought “what the hell” let’s take that instead of the hardtail I’d used so far. Big mistake. The course was pretty much all grassy sections that were either rock hard and bumpy or muddy and slippy. The cross bike really didn’t work anywhere and at the end I was battered from being bounced around. My injury also reminded me that it was a poor choice that I shouldn’t repeat.
All that said the course was a cracker, and with the right bike (more later) would be great fun to ride.
I finished at the back of the racer category again – lapped twice by the leaders.
Round Four: Lee Quarry.
I had high hopes for Lee Quarry as it was bound to be more technical and that might play to my strengths. The course was a belting reverse loop of the top section of the quarry with some epic high-speed sections, rocks everywhere and technical climbs.
With lots of experience of riding there I knew that a soft-tail would be ideal and so it proved. I loved the course and produced one of my best performances so far. Only lapped once by three or four riders and ending up 13th overall. My finishing position helped in no small part by the number of mechanicals experienced by other riders. The terrain in Lee Quarry is aggressive and a number of riders abandoned with ripped tyres. Definitely my favourite round of the series.
Round Five: Beacon Park.
A late addition to the series, by popular request, was another round at Beacon Park. This time I took the soft-tail and loved the course, what I difference to the cross bike. I could keep pedaling all the way round and it made a big difference to my placing. So did the push I got off Chris Lever over the start/finish line as he lapped me – thanks Chris!
Whilst I still came in towards the back of the racer category I was only lapped once by a handful of the faster racers.
I would really recommend the series to seasoned racers and those looking to take part in their first events. They are well organised and only cost £15 a race on the day, less if you get organised and enter via the British Cycling website beforehand.
For me it was great to back “racing” again and I managed, due to scoring points in every race of the series, to secure a top 10 overall finish. A victory for persistence over ability!
Hopefully I will see you on the start line at next year’s events.
Awesome photos by Chris Mead Photography