Thursday, 14 March 2013

Nutcracker Round 1- Dalby Bike Barn

BEEP... BEEP... BEEP! 7:00 am on a Sunday, not a place many people find themselves, at least not without just turning over and heading straight back to sleep. But for me, and many others across the north, it was time to get up, whip on the lycra and gobble down half our weight in porridge, cereal or alike carbohydrate/cardboard rich foods. It was race day; the first of the Nutcracker series, the first of the mountainbike xc season and the first in a couple of months!

Snow falling outside, I dragged myself out of my cozy haven and proceeded to get ready for the day's race, still half asleep. With it being a couple of months since the early morning race ritual, my brain was still unable to comprehend why it had been switched from dream mode at such a stupid time.

Round 1 of the Nutcracker series was being held at one of England's most acclaimed mountainbike venues, Dalby Forest. Being used for numerous world cups and national series rounds, Dalby couldn't be a better venue to open the 2013 mountainbike season. Living in Harrogate, it is a reasonable hour and a half in the van (bike mobile) to Dalby, and with the help of the music of Bastille's new album, we were there in a breeze.

9:00 am, we arrived at Dalby Forest, snow still falling and, what felt like, a massive drop in temperature. 27 layers of clothing later, I rode down to registration to sign on. Passing a few familiar faces on the way, my race tweaked mind instantly was trying to judge competitors, as if it could magically sense their form.

Numbered zip-tied on and I set off around the course for a recce lap.

Pre race day rumours had suggested that the course was similar to an enduro course- half up, half down. It didn't take long to confirm this. The start of the lap was composed of an ongoing number of switchbacks, similar to something you'd see in the Alps in the Tour de France, with the added bonus of rocks and mud. The switchbacks eventually gave way to a fire road (potential fuelling place No. 1), which continued the uphill trend. The course then turned an abrupt left off the track and onto a narrow, muddy moorland path, dotted with tree stumps and rocks; it was clear this would be a real energy sapper in the race. Turning off the moorland, the course continued upwards (yep, up again), back onto a fire road (potential fuelling place No.2). This would be a crucial place for overtaking in the race, as from after the fire road to the finish, it was singletrack all the way. Starting off with a tight, muddy and rooting path, the gradient finally began to head downwards... sharply! Mud still present, the course turned a sharp left and headed straight down. It was a case of point the bike downhill and hope for the best. It was an incredibly sketchy descent, which was sure to shake up the race with the promise of more than one crash. After that, the course followed the end of Dalby Forest's official red route all the way to the finish, a fast, hard-pack singletrack descent, the course's only place for respite.

Lap done, it was time to get ready and relax before the start of my race at 11:30. We, the juniors, would be setting off with the elite riders, so a good start was in my head as number 1 priority.

Warm up done, plenty of embrocation applied and energy gel eaten, I headed for the start line. Second row on the grid, I knew there was no excuses for a bad start.

Warm up clothes off, a sip of drink and the red mist of racing came down.

"Start will be some time in the next 10 seconds... ... ... Go!"

I didn't have the best of starts. A missed pedal and I was a few places down on where I should have been. Thankfully, the start was a long tarmac climb, with plenty of time to regain places before the singletrack. A few groups formed on the climb, with me being in the second. Eventually, they splintered, leaving me in no mans land, in between two groups of riders. We headed off the tarmac and onto the course proper. We descended down towards the finish line for the first time, and I was still alone. Heading up onto the climb, I eased up a tad; I was dangling as bait in front of a group of about 5 riders, and there was no point wasting energy so early on. I kept near the front of the group, with me and two elite rider piling the pressure. By the time we'd reached the descent on lap 1, the group of 6 had become 3, which is roughly how it remained for the next 6 out of 7 laps.

Heading up the start of the climb, mid race

Apart from a few sensational crashes, by myself, the majority of the race was uneventful. Me and the 2 elites remained within grasp of each other all the way until the final lap. I knew 1 Junior, Mike Thompson, was far up ahead, with there being no chance of me catching him, and another, Benny Pygott, a few minutes behind me, my only risk to my current 2nd place.

Heading into the woods, near the beginning of the climb, a couple of laps to go

The bell went for the final lap, and it was time for one last romp up the never ending climb. We had been racing for nearly an hour and a half, yet for some reason I found some legs. I pushed hard up the climb, eventually dropping the two elite riders I was with, and I gained a gap. Going into the descent, I was cautious, 1 mistake and I could loose a load of time. Thankfully, out of all the laps, my descent on the final lap was my cleanest, and I was able to come home ahead of the 2 elite riders and bagged myself 2nd place in the junior category.

I was pretty pleased with my performance. 2nd place on my first race of the season was a worthy achievement. I had been training hard all the way up to the race, so I hadn't had much rest previous. I knew, with a bit of recovery, I'd have even more speed in my legs. So it was looking hopeful for the upcoming national series race at the end of the month.

I would like to thank Boneshakers Performance Cycles, for supplying me with my race kit, Bobbin's dad for the photos, Altura Nutcracker for great organisation and a cracking course and, also, to my dad for being my general run about for the day. 

Overall, it was a great day's racing and a good representation of my form. 

Bring on the rest of the season!

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