After a broken down car thwarted my attempt to get to the first round of the Super Six series a few weeks ago, this weekend I again attempted to race on the road - well it felt like it anyway. Sherwood Pines, the venue for the first round of the British Mountain Bike Series, often ends up being more like a road race than a mountain bike race. A combination of wide, flat fireroads and tradition for unseasonable dry weather tends to make for close, pack racing. If you lose the wheel in front and let the gap open it is near impossible to close it again.
This year the course was a little more interesting than usual with a few new singletrack sections. Some of these were great to ride - flowing ups and downs which required full attention and quick reactions. Other sections consisted of tight turns which were difficult to maintain any kind of momentum through. The combination of the two with fast fireroad inbetween made for a testing course.
Of course the first round of the BMBS is also rather like a school reunion. The first time all us XC racers have been in one place a good five months. I always seem to leave with a sore throat and a big grin on my face. This year was no different.
|Shiney new kit! - photo by James Milnes|
We arrived at the venue on Saturday afternoon and met up with the rest of the AW cycles team. A mass of new kit, bike bits and energy food was thrown out of the van at us and we quickly fitted the new USE carbon bars and stem. A couple of laps of the course to make sure everything worked and we met up with young, up and coming photographer Jacob James to get some shots for our team launch press release – coming soon! We then retired to our luxury accommodation where Mel Ernest cooked a fabulous feast for us.
Race time for me arrived far too early, after the onset of BST lost us an hour and the new early start time of 9.30 for the women’s race another half an hour. Before I knew it I was lining up on the second row of the grid behind some real stars, including GB rider Annie Last (Halfords) and regular world cup star Lene Byberg (Specialized). I didn’t have the best start and was trying to make up distance before the first corner. As we went into the singletrack I was back on the rear of the pack but it was already too late and I was soon floating a little distance off the pace. I put in a few efforts on the open fireroad sections and tried to be as smooth as possible through the trees and towards the end of my 5 lap race I was apparently making up some time on the girls just ahead of me. At the front of the action Annie and Lene were tearing strips out of each other, with the British National Champion eventually succumbing to the speed of the surging Norwegian. At this stage of the season, with very little speed in my legs and on a course which really does not suit my strengths, I was simply pleased to finish on the same lap as the winners. This turned out to put me in 17th place in the Elite women. However my laptimes indicate that I could have raced harder so hopefully some work on my start and some more interval workouts will help me get my race head on for the next round at Dalby.
A quick turnaround and I was standing next to the start taking Chris’s warm up top and leg warmers. He seemed quite chipper despite the fact that he dislikes Sherwood even more than I do (too fond of the old hills us two!). A good start and a sprint up the first climb and he headed into the singletrack mid-pack. From my feed-zone viewpoint Chris had a good strong ride moving forwards in the field during the race and riding very consistently. He finished in 28th place with some good friends and very handy riders around him for company. Predictably at the front of the Expert field it was all change from last year (more than the usual number of riders deciding to put themselves up to Elite to play with the big boys). Lee Westward (Raleigh UK) put in a stormer of a ride to finish first, however second place finisher Ryan Henry’s (Mountain Hardware) high finish was not a surprise to those of us who have seen him race at the Friday Night Summer Series. In 3rd place was ex-National Hillclimb champion Matt Clinton – just shows how hard a discipline MTB XC is!
All in all it was a great weekend. Thanks to AWCycles for all the new kit. I have to say the shorts are the most comfortable (and flattering) I have ever owned.