Thursday, 2 May 2013

National XC Round 2- Wheal Maid, Cornwall

A very late report I know, but better now than never...

Cornwall: county occupying the extreme south-western peninsula of England. Even the dictionary uses the word 'extreme' to describe the remoteness of the location of round 2 of the National XC Series. 

A good 5 hours from London, Cornwall was going to be a good 7 hour trip. It is, after all, a journey normally driven for the annual family holiday, where a week or two might be spent on some of the best beaches in the UK. However, this was not the case for us; we would be driving to Cornwall and back within 40 hours, which included 14 hours driving and a further 10 sleeping. But that's racing and dedication for you.

We set off on our journey early Saturday morning (27th April), along with my mate Youth rider Bobbin Gardner, who travelled with us for the weekend. Our aim was to get there in time for the afternoon course tryout period, in order to familiarise ourselves with, what we had heard was, a pretty technical course. With the course location being to distant, no one we knew had raced there before, so we would have to find out first hand the exact nature of the course. But before then, it was travelling, talking and tunes, with Bon Iver, Bastille and Miles Kane being the songs for the road.

Arriving with plenty of time to spare before practice, we managed to get the heads up on some of the course features, from a few of the riders from the Fun race. Key features appeared to be the "wall ride" and the two drops before "toxic lake". Of course, none of this was visible from the lush green car park, where we were getting ready. And until ridden, these features were merely words and worries in the back of our minds.

16:30- time to venture out onto the course.

After winding through the grassy corners of the event arena, we quickly found ourselves on a tight piece of rocky singletrack; all momentum lost in an instant. The course quickly turned downhill after this, following a very fast rolling singletrack path, with few humps and ruts. Continuing downhill, we hit a slightly technical section of woodland, with a very steep length of adverse camber, where wheels could easily be lost. After that was a few extra steep rutted sections, each of which had a sharp corner at the bottom, again meaning a loss of all momentum.

But after what felt like ages, the course finally produced some uphill gradient, gentle at first, but progressing to a torturous grind. There was nothing hard technically here, but physically, it was going to hurt during the race, especially when places would be made up here, from being stuck behind riders on the previous descent.

Eventually, the gradient receded, and the course, once again, pointed downwards. A few fast, but rocky, were followed by a steep drop. Two line choices: the near vertical drop to the left, or the slightly longer, but safer, route to the right. After a try of each, it was obvious that the risk was definitely rewarding, as regards to time. Continuing on the course, a small crowd was gathered just up ahead, just as the route turned off the current main track. Moments later we realised why; before us were the two drops that lead down to the toxic lake. Following Bobbin down the feature, a small kid ran out at the bottom, causing Bobbin to break before the second drop and me to go into the back of him, with nowhere else to go after the first drop. This, I later found out, had broken a spoke on my rear wheel, which, without a spare, could do nothing about. Anyway, second time around we got a clear run on the feature, which shared much similarity to 'The Terrible Twins' at Dalbeattie.

The toxic lake marked the end to all the technical descending on the course. Apart from a few short downhill spurts, the only way was up. At first, the course followed the valley bottom, snaking around on the dry, rocky areas, which laid alongside the lakes. But before the steeper ascending began, there was the ominous wall ride to over come.

After the drag along the valley bottom, the course turned sharply right, towards the opposite valley side to the start/finish. Ahead was the wall ride, which resembled the type of vertical hairpin bend you would see in a children's hot wheels set. And as you will probably know, if you project your toy car up the hairpin without enough speed, the car will simply fall off. This was exactly the case here; stop pedalling, and you'll be having a uncontrollable ride on your top tube down the side of a rocky hillside. This, unfortunately, was what happened to me on one of my trial runs of the feature, thankfully managing to stay on my bike. Eventually, I got the hang of it; not perfect, but not bad. But before we went on to finish the course, we witnessed ex-national champion Oli Beckinsale come off on said feature, filling us all with mountains confidence for the race...

From the wall ride, the course wound its way back up the other side of the valley, with very little technical riding. A short bit of woodland riding, and the course emerged on the start straight and back into the event arena.

In my opinion, the course was immense! Definitely one of the most technical XC courses I have ridden, which wiped out any annoyance from the length of time it took to get there.

After practice, Bobbin and I rode back to the hotel to get ready for the following day's race. A task made slightly interesting when following google maps and getting lost twice!

Race day

Having pre ridden the course the day before, all to be done on the day was warm up and race. However, before this, I was supporting Bobbin in the pits, for the Youth race. Bobbin got a great start, and was up in 13th position. But a cruel puncture on the last lap caused him to fall down to 26th.

Anyway, 11:20, time to warm up; a task made a lot easier, compared to the opening round of the series, as there was no need to dig a hole to put the turbo trainer in! Daft Punk channelling into my ears, head getting in the zone and legs spinning. 30 mins later and I'm on the start line.

With my result from the first round (16th), I am on the second row, which I"m content with; after a few seconds of racing and it means nothing.

After the familiar Australian voice of the commissaire, the siren goes and the race has begun, the red mist of racing comes down.

We head out into the event arena, and everyone is jostling for positions. 16th. 14th. 10th. 13th. We leave the grassy arena and out onto the main course, the field still as one long string of riders. I'm somewhere between 10th and 15th, but there is nothing I can do to change it on the long narrow descent. Man down! James Edmunds goes off the side of the narrow singletrack, and I advance a place. The rest of the descent is event free, and we advance at mac 10 onto the first climb on the course. It's a case of grit your teeth and see what happens. I make up a couple of places, including a team Fullysussed rider with a shaped chain. I must be hovering just above 10th position. A dream of a top 10 just on the horizon!

We turn down and onto the seconds descent. The field of riders is more spread out now, with gaps starting to appear. We approach the drop before the double drop at the toxic lake, there's a few of us grouped together. For some reason, I take a line too far right and end up going down a steeper section of the drop. I land on my front wheel, nearly coming off hard. I manage to regain control, but I've dropped a place or two. I catch back up with the riders I was with as they negotiate the double drop.

On the section between the toxic lake and the wall ride I move back up to 12th position, just before the group starts to splinter. A small dab at the top of the wall ride and I'm over safely; time to hit the climb. After small gaps between riders previous to the climb where prised open, with the vicious ascent back up to the finish arena. I find myself with fellow Yorkshireman Benny Pygott, who clings onto me for the final stages of the opening lap.

Benny and I remain with each other for the majority of the race, which turns out to be rather uneventful for such a challenging course. I negotiate the wall ride perfectly for the final two laps, and I feel the burn up the climbs, but my pace doesn't slip. With half a lap to go, I put in one final spurt and manage to drop Benny from my wheel. I dig in up the final climb, still cautious of his whereabouts behind me.

I manage to hold the gap and come home in 12th position, a 4 place bettering of the opening round at Sherwood Pines. I'm pretty chuffed with my result, despite not getting the top 10 that I desire this season. The course was pretty balanced, with a lot of technical riding partnered with a lot of hard climbs. So to survive the race without a crash or fading is something I was pretty pleased with.

I would like to say a HUGE thank you to my dad for driving me down to Cornwall, and for driving us around after the race trying to find an open Cornish pasty shop! And also a thank you to Boneshakers Performance Cycles for supplying me with kit.

Unfortunately, I did not compete at the North of England championships on May 12th due to a lack of bike, due to a crack I discovered on the frame after my race in Cornwall. However, I shall be racing in Shropshire in a few weeks for round 3 of the National XC Series, along with the usual Wednesday evening time trial league.

Until then, happy riding!

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