It’s mid-October and we’ve passed the ‘meat and veg’ of the Mountain Bike race season and by now are well into the ‘cheese and biscuits’. And I love a bit of cheese. I’d heard great things about the West Drayton MTB Clubs ‘Night of the Knobbly Tread’ night time cross country race, with a unique format, friendly Halloween themed atmosphere and a cracker of a course nestled on the edge of the M25. So despite the threat of another wet muddy race I headed over there hoping for a top wedge of Camembert.
With Slough and the M25 just a stone’s throw away, I was not expecting big mountains, nor was I expecting the smooth flowing singletrack that so many southern XC races are famous for, but I was wrong. This was no ‘fake’ Kraft cheese slice, this was Babybel, a real little treat with loads of fun twisting trails packed into the compact Black Park. Add plenty of fast open fire track providing ample passing opportunities and a tricky little bombhole near the finish, this was going to be a blast of race. Better yet, the firm surface and well draining ground meant that despite the recent deluges, the course had not turned into a fondue.
At 7.50pm we were launched at full speed up the long (and very straight) start straight and after a couple of slight turns we were soon clipping tree stumps on the first of the singletrack sections. I made a reasonable start just inside the top ten and after safely negotiating some slippery corners and putting in some bursts of speed on the open straights I dropped into a fast moving group of four vying for third place. The pace didn’t seem too hot and I felt like I could go quicker but I was soon brought back to reality once I hit the front, as it was far easier to follow than lead. We finished the lap together about 20 seconds behind the leading pair.
The next couple of laps followed a similar pattern and the group largely stuck together and we all had plenty of comedy moments hitting unseen slippery roots. The leading pair had stretched their lead further ahead and none of our group seemed able to break it up and forge on alone. Half way around the third lap the predicted rain started to fall, nothing heavy and certainly nothing that would dramatically affect the course. I started to lose some time on the singletrack sections, mainly operator error as my glasses steamed up and struggled to stay on track. I fell back to Dave Wadsworth and we collaborated to try to keep the pace high, he provided a tow rope to drag me through the singletrack, while I put in big turns on the fireroads to maximise speed. We weren’t exactly as silky smooth as the Team GB Team Pursuit squad, but it was effective.
Towards the end of the fifth and last lap, we started to play chess. Dave knew he needed a cushion before the final 400 metres of fireroad, while I knew I had to keep within striking distance on the last narrow section. I failed. A slip on that section put me about 10 seconds behind and despite a desperate flat out chase down the final straight, Dave did just enough to reach the final chicanes in front and even wrapped himself in course marking tape in an effort to throw me off the scent. We finished together, him in 6th and me in 7th overall. With 3 vets in front I was 4th senior.
Not a brilliant result, but fantastic racing at a thoroughly innovative event. Top marks to the West Drayton Mountain Bike Club for organising and Exposure Lights for sponsoring and providing the podium finishers some quality prizes. I’ll be back next year with more effort on the fancy dress front to celebrate Halloween (or should that be Halloumi – sorry, couldn’t resist one more bad cheese pun !)