|All smiles on the warm-up lap. I was still smiling after the race!|
On my warm-up lap I kept waiting for the hill that never came. Instead the course was a relentless, undulating, singletrack frenzy, that required full concentration and commitment. The dry, sandy soil sapped strength and lead to some sketchy cornering! Although there was no ‘hill’ in the true sense of the word, after a few laps there were some drags that really got the legs burning.
I’ll admit to serious butterflies in the pit of my stomach after an extended period without racing. Would I still be able to cut it? Perched on the end of the front row I looked along the grid and was further freaked out about the shaved legged youngsters, looking keen and focused. Unusually the course leapt almost immediately into a narrow twisty section so I knew with nearly 70 riders fighting to be first in the queue, the start was going to be crucial. I choose my a line through the first few corners, put my head down and waited for the hooter.
It was the elbows out fight I had expected, but down the first heather lined path I was 3rd and hanging on nicely to the wheels ahead. Emerging after ½ a mile onto the first fireroad I waited for the surely inevitable stream of riders to come charging past. Out of the saddle I could hear the crunch of gravel under tyres and deep breathing, but cutting the corner I dived into the wood still in 3rd. Charging through the tight confines of the lap was hugely rewarding , especially the swoopy bombhole section towards the end. Four of us broke away from the rest of the field, I surrendered 3rd, but still felt comfortable. I’d probably have liked a hill, as on any incline I would surge back to the tail of the group.
Traffic was a major problem when we caught the tail end of the ladies races and the Grand Veterans. With such a tight course there were very few opportunities to get by and this worked to the advantage of the leading pair who got a small gap before the end of the lap. I could have done without the U-turn here, rushing down a trail only to see the red and white tape disappearing up over the crest on my left! It was 15-20 valuable seconds squandered.
Into the second lap and chasing 3rd, I became confused amongst all back markers about who I was actually racing. At the side of a trail were several riders with punctures and I thought one of them might have been from the leading pair in my race. However, I couldn’t be sure and assumed I was in 4th and was pushing hard to get back on the podium when the rider ahead completely wiped out. The path crossed a little stream and he sailed over the bars, front wheel stuck resolutely in the water. Dodging to the left I went down too. Scrambling back on, the pain in my leg only slowly becoming apparent, I was more concerned that further precious seconds had slipped away.
Into the final lap I gave everything I could, out of the saddle to keep the power down whenever I could. My rear wheel had worked loose so the bike was selecting gears at random, but my final lap was still quicker the one before. Crossing the line I stopped and waited for the commentary............”Ben Connor finishes 3rd in the Open male category”.
A broad smile stretched across my face like a Cheshire Cat on the way back to the car, after a glorious day of racing. It was fantastic to be back out competing again and see all the familiar faces. Plus I don’t know how many more rides we can get in this year with weather like this. Surely the mud and cold lurks just around the corner!