Saturday, 27 April 2013

Nutcracker Round 2- Gandale, Catterick Garrison

Gandale army training facility provided the familiar venue for round 2 of the Nutcracker XC series, being a popular course for the previous two years (for most people anyway). Last year at Gandale, I pulled out on the second lap due to illness, and the year before that injury hampered my performance. So looking back, it was looking as though I was either due a good race there or the course just didn't hold any luck for me, we'd have to see...

House viewings meant that my mum would be the driver and run about for the day, with the job usually  being kindly done by my dad. On the plus side, my mum would take full advantage of her new SLR camera, so some great shots were likely. But it also meant that there wasn't as much as a hurry in the morning to leave, which led to me sleeping in too late. So, after a frantic packing of the van we set off north into the depths of North Yorkshire, new album by The Shins on the stereo and fingers crossed that we'd make it in time to try out the course.

Getting closer and closer, it was apparent a recce lap wasn't going to happen; I would have to race it blind. Thankfully, I'd heard that the course hadn't changed drastically from previous years, and that it still contained the main feature, the rocky river bed. But with no recce lap, I had loads of time to get my bike sorted, sign on and relax. So after good look at the start list and a change of tyres, from something a little less aggressive, still on from the mud fest of Sherwood Pines, I set about doing, well, nothing.

10:45: time to set about warming up. Good bit of Daft Punk on the iPod, in light of their forthcoming album, perfect for getting in the zone for racing.

Warm up done, time to swap wheels for racing. A simple task, but this time I managed to cock it up and ended up bending the return spring in my rear brake calliper. Oh well, I thought, and began to ride off towards the start. But the large scraping noise coming from my rear brake stopped me about 20 meters down the track. Swear words coming thick and fast from my mouth, I began emptying the contents of the van in search of an unbent spring! Less than 5 minutes to go before the start of the race and I hear the dreaded words from my mum, "Ed, you're not going to make the start". This has the opposite effect intended and I double the speed that I am chucking things out of the van. Finally, I find what I am looking for and after a rapid bit of spannering my bike was up and running. I sprint off to the start, thankfully making it in time, although being on the back row. Time to calm down and ready myself to race.

It is a rolling start, to make sure we're all clipped in before a very steep and loose starting climb. The siren goes and the red mist of racing descends. I make up a few places on the start climb, before we join the main course. The start of the course was a long fire road, with a horrible headwind, which I recalled from previous years. The field is still bunched up and there is a lot of jostling of positions. I manage to move up to a better position, just before the field splinters, as the course turns and the headwind becomes a crosswind. At the end of the fire road, I find myself in a group containing myself and two elites; I'm second Junior on the course. We turn sharply onto a fast section of singletrack, that runs parallel to a stream on a small steep sided valley. This goes on for a fair way, until we turn down and across the stream and up a short sharp climb. But the technical riding continues, and we turn back down to the stream, on a slippy off camber section, and proceed to ride along the stream. This has been the main feature of the course for the previous years and it seems harder going than ever. Huge boulders inhibit any form of momentum, and a slip up by the rider in front forces me and the other rider off our bikes, and we run the remainder of the section.

One of many stream crossings

Following this is a fast open section, where the three of us take it in turns on the front, each putting in the work, allowing us to pull further from the chasing riders. Interspersed with a few technical climbs and a water splash, we wind our way back to the start arena, before setting out on a shorter loop, which is just before the finish.

Going out onto the shorter loop, before the woods

The loop starts by going down a steep twisty grass descent, before a singletrack section in the only wooded part of the course. This relatively fast uphill section winds through the length of the woodland and emerges just before a very steep and loose climb. Here, the three of us splinter, each of us taking a different route up the hill, removing the problem caused if the person in front were to slip and obstruct, causing us to run. This time, we all make it up and regroup on the fire road at the top. After a fast descent, we climb up to the finish for the end of the first lap.

Heading up the 'arena' area

I remain in the group of three for the following three laps, each of us putting in the work in the wind, apart from on the third lap, where I am clinging to the back of the group, in severe oxygen debt. With one lap to go, the three of us drift part and I complete the final lap solo. I am cautious on the technical sections, taking care not to make a mistake, so not to risk the 3rd place junior catching me up.

Thankfully, I complete the lap problem free and finish the race as 2nd junior and well up the elite field. I'm pretty pleased with my result, especially with the lack of trial lap and previous luck at the venue. Fingers crossed I will have the same luck for my next race, which is the second round of the national xc series, in Cornwall, on April 28th!

Top 4 riders

I would like to thank my sponsors Boneshakers Performance Cycles, for supplying me with racing kit and also to my mum for being run about for the day, and also putting up with my pre race anger, due to my mechanical. It was a great course and the whole race was well organised, so thank you to the Nutcracker team and Altura, the race sponsor.

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