Last year I was 9th in the National Champs - my best ever result. I was disappointed though because after a puncture on the first lap, I simply rode round and finished. I was lapped, I wasn't really 'racing' and I think I muct have been the last finisher. This year I finished 10th - but the race could not have been more different.
The National Championships rightly seems to attract a wider range of racers than the National Series races, This year it seemed to be even more extreme than normal. All the non-UK citizens who usually race our National Series were off racing their National Champs but there were also a handfull of riders who race abroad/ primarily on the road/ primarily cyclo-cross. The field definitely seemed stacked than the last two times I have finished a National Champs (in 2008 and 2010). Notable additions were the Scott Contessa riders Nicky Harris and Gabby Day both international cyclo-crossers and Catherine Williamson international road racer. There are also two riders who have moved up from Masters this year. There were also a couple of riders who I had never heard of or seen before - a great thing for the sport!
The course had been talked up as a bit of a disappointment, but on arrival on the Saturday we headed out to check it out and were pleasantly surprised. I had an eventful pre-ride, falling on the first technical descent and the sliding down the next muddy one on my bum. The climbs inbetween these techy bits were also pretty brutal so by the time we made it to the second part of the lap which was twisty, muddy and rooty singletrack I was actually quite relieved. The Giant Anthem was perfect, climbing like a dream (those Fife hill reps have helped us set up perfectly) and floating over all the nasty little roots! Liking adverse conditions Chris and I silently prayed for more rain overnight and the heavens obligingly helped us out.
Not racing until 2.30pm Chris and I had an unusually relaxed morning. Our only activity apart from eating and drinking was to switch up for a mud tyre each on our front wheels. Come race time I lined up on the 3rd row and managed to get onto the right hand side which we had earlier identified as less risky and rutted. Now I just had to fulfill each of my aims:
1. Not to get lapped
2. To pace the race well
3. To be in the front group at the start
4. To ride smoothly
As the gun went I succeeded in just making the front group - hurrah one aim met. I didn't want to break number 2 though so set my own pace up the first climb letting a few girls pass me. Successfully navigating my way around the lap twice and I was already working well on aim number 4. At this point I came across Anna Buick riding well in 3rd in the U23 race so decided to tow her up a long drag into the wind at the back of the course and make sure she could recover and maintain a good position. At the end I was really proud to have helped her a bit towards getting her excellent bronze medal.
Leaving Anna to her successes I continued to gain positions until the last lap, when the heavens opened again. It was like riding in many small muddy streams and I could hardly see. In was so insanely wet it was hilarious! I was fighting cramp by this point, but pushed away from Ruth Owen-Evans who I could see behind me. When finally crossed the line in 10th place, just under two hours after the start, I could not have been more exhausted or pleased with myself.
Thanks to Jo and Mel for bottling for us as we were both racing at the same time and well done to the AW boys - 11th, 14th, 15th and 36th in the men's race.