Three words once described as punishment for misbehaving juveniles but in my case a triptych of adjectives to describe my first venture into the official world of XC racing.
Having spent all my formative and subsequent ten years of MTB racing at the endurance end of the spectrum an official XC race was brand new experience and quite an awakening and learning curve.
Organised by the Gorrick MTB Race Team the event was based at what is known as Area 51, this is a great piece of forest just off the M3 and no less than 45 mins drive for me. I had raced there before so I thought I knew what to expect – nice flowing singletrack with short intense climbs interspersed with some fire road – the usual.
I arrived and my first plan was to sort out my pit area for a spare bottle and some bits in case of a mechanical and a few gels. I knew where the pit run was from before but couldn’t see anybody laying anything out, no bottles, no plastic crates, nothing.
It didn’t take me long to realise that ala cyclocross nobody really bothers with this extra stuff at XC, just a bottle in the cage and that was all. In fact as I watched other riders approach the start line there wasn’t even a pump or Co2 inflators in any back jersey pocket! Old habits die hard and even though I joined in the ‘no pit’ gang, because if I admit it I was embarrassed not to, I couldn’t help but take a gel or two plus a pump and tool.
The race start was then called and I lined up in my usual ‘not at the front but not at the back’ position and off we went. Quick blast down a short wide section of the forest, turn sharp left then straight up a root infested intense climb and then down into technical flowing singletrack, then up then down then twisting left then right then up then down and singletrack singletrack singletrack. After the faster than usual start I was starting to feel a bit thirsty so thought I would grab a quick mouthful of drink when we hit a fire road section or some double track, but first I had to navigate this bombhole then this technical singletrack descent, then some more Singletrack and racing full gas, then some more singletrack and another leg cramping intense climb and a bombhole and singletrack descent and singletrack and singletrack and so on until the lap ended and off we went again !
This was fun and testing in equal measures but there was a problem developing and that was after years of endurance racing and pacing myself I always had one eye on my laps and feared the dreaded ‘blow up’ so in truth I knew I was holding something back. I know this isn’t the perfect strategy for XC but for me it proved to effective as on my last lap I picked off a couple of people off and raced neck and neck or back wheel to front wheel with a guy who I subsequently pressured into making a mistake on a climb, getting past him by putting on burst and setting my fastest lap.
I finished a lowly 25/31 but was pleased having been an XC virgin. I’m sure improvement will follow but ironically I looked at lap times and even with a two minute per lap increase in pace it still wouldn’t get me in the top half. Those boys at the sharp end really do tear it up. Oh well I can look forward to being a grand vet in 2017.