Shock, horror: 24 Hour racer takes holeshot at XC race!
Now I admit it’s not that remarkable really. Plenty of people can ride a mountain bike fast for a few minutes. But this is a big deal for me. I’ve devoted a significant amount of time in the last few years to making my body ride quite fast for a very long time. Part of that process involves smoothing out those surges of energy expenditure so the fuel tank doesn’t run dry. I’ve become pretty good at this, which is very useful in those ultra-endurance races but that strength quickly becomes a weakness when you have a heaving start-line mass of bodies all desperate to get to the singletrack first and empty their tanks in little more than 1.5 hours.
Last weekend’s Southern XC round 1 was different. I took up a front row position. Chose a suitable fast accelerating gear. Got the foot of my strongest leg clipped in. Focused on the end of the start straight. Blocked out the start line chatter. Anticipated the starter’s whistle. Reacted quickly. And threw body and bike forward as quickly as possible. Out of the corner of my eye I couldn’t see anyone else, so I poured more effort into the bike and went full gas, leading up the wide opening section of the course at Wasing Park. I was enjoying the reckless freedom of speed, such a contrast to the super controlled and tactically astute approach I used at this very same venue to win the European 24 hour Solo Championships last year.
Inevitably the rush ended. I eased a little and one by one riders slipped past as I realised I didn’t have the power to follow. Some days you have it, others you don’t. Luckily, the course at Wasing is a lot of fun. Following the wide opening loop, the course took us up a sharp little climb which led into the new ‘Snow Drop’ gap jump; more of a test of commitment than anything, although two broken collarbones are testament to the dangers. More signature sharp climbing and twisting singletrack led to the ‘Big Drop’ with a vertical entry it’s an intimidating proposition but the smooth transition at the bottom catches you from the freefall. Personally I love this drop but that’s because in last year’s 24 hour solo I had to climb this thirty times and for half of those the mud made it unrideable. More twists and turns led into a new entry to the final decent through Bluebell Woods, past the Tank and through the finish for four more laps.
I pushed hard throughout but even at that stage the positions were well established so the rest of race was spent honing the handling skills and working the engine. Those skills certainly had an overhaul as the thirty five practice laps I did in 2013 had me riding many sections on autopilot, taking the smooth energy saving lines rather than the faster, more direct options. 8th position was worse than I was hoping for but it was a grand day out in the sun and a cracking race which has highlighted some areas to work on. Hopefully we can get the engine running more sweetly in two weeks at the first round of the National XC series.