Since I hadn't ridden an Olympic distance short course XC race since October, I decided it would be sensible to test my race legs before the National Championships in 4 weeks time. My focus this year has been on the longer marathon format of mountain biking. Unfortunately the lack of racing meant I wasn't gridded and started the Southern XC race at Porridgepot from the fourth row, in the middle of a strong field of 50 riders.
Peering over the sea of heads infront it was clear I'd need to make headway quickly off the start to make sure I didn't get baulked down in the mid field while the front of the race sped away. So a mad sprint was required to the first corner. I got slightly boxed in but made progress, and cutting inside a few riders at the next couple of bends probably got me close to the top 10.
At the base of the first climb I looked up, the leaders were already at the top! I dug deep and sprinted with everything I had, weaving left and right, lungs gulping in burning air and legs bursting to exploding point! Hanging onto the wheel infront and trying to recover, we flowed down through the long twisting decent to the base of the next climb where I did the same again. Digging deep, rear trye kicking up stones as it scrabbled for traction. However, my efforts had been rewarded and I was now 5th.
The course was fast and flowing, with challenging stoney decents and rooty sections to catch you off guard. I dodged into 4th before the end of the lap and entered the arena tight on the wheel of the 3rd placed rider. He made my life easy, his front wheel washing out on the first corner of the second lap allowing me to squeeze round the outside.
|The start! Darren just behind - luckily it stayed that way!|
As I pushed on trying to consolidate a bit after my first lap efforts, the squeel or brakes and crunching of gears told me several riders were still in close pursuit. Coiming back into the arena a second time the announcer said "Ben Connor 3rd Open male" and with hardly a pause for breath " Darren Rawlings is in 4th".
I cursed, my grasp on 3rd was only a slender one and my nearest competitor was my mate Darren! Not only was a podium finish at stake, but also bragging rights at next Sundays coffee stop!
Knowing Darren, I was aware he would be murdering me through the technical sections, so I had to make the most of the climbs early in the lap. As I had at the start I charged with everything I had up the first two slopes and about half way round the lap I did my one and only over the shoulder check. Darren wasn't in sight, I had a 20 second gap at least.
Perhaps I relaxed, or Darren pushed on, but before I knew it there was a rider right back on my rear wheel and it had to be Darren! I pushed again stretching the elastic, opening the smallest of margins before the last significant climb. Up ahead I could see a slower rider. Trouble was it was a narrow path with no room for two abreast. I had no choice but to ride up to him and just sit patiently behind, swearing repeatedly under my breath! Before the top I risked the bracken, jinking off the path to get past at the soonest opportunity. This gave me the briefest of breaks before Darren could squeeze past. It was enough to see me home.
I had genuinely forgotten how tough XC racing is. It is full on from the gun to the line! Over an hour on the absolute limit, both technically and physically. But Wow! What a buzz!!