Tuesday, May 22, 2007

British NPS round 2 :: Full Race Report

MAY 12-13, 2007

Round 2 of the British mountain bike series was held at Sherwood Pines in Nottinghamshire. I faced a tough weekend of racing by entering both the elite cross-country event on the Saturday, followed by the 100km marathon on the Sunday. Nevertheless, I was looking forward to the challenge as a strong elite field was expected and the opportunity to race against world class mountain bike racers from across Europe, Australasia and even America.

A Quick Release Holidays were responsible for designing both the cross-country and marathon courses, which has never been a favourite course for many people due to the lack of hills and unrelenting bumpy single track. From my three years of racing, I have always found Sherwood Pines to be very fast and requiring an almost road racing style with lots of packs of riders. However, series organiser Martyn Salt wanted a technical course and something a bit different from previous years. This was quite a daunting task as we (the AQR crew – Ian, Paul and myself) really wanted to create a course that made the most of the technical trails on offer, but due to freak storms over the winter period, many of our favourite trails had disappeared. However, AQR were up for the challenge and together we devised a loop that we hoped would be loved and hated to different degrees. Loved by many for the experience, hated by few for that pain it brought to one’s body... ..that be me then :^) The inside knowledge of the course did not do me any favours though, as I well and truly suffered.

The cross-country race was a Class 1 UCI event, which meant double UCI points, and the opportunity to race a larger international field. On the starting grid there were past and future Olympians, national champions, experienced world class racers, plus America’s Mary McConneloug who is currently UCI ranked 5th in the world. All those months back when Martyn Salt announced round 2 as a Class 1 UCI event I was very excited about racing, as I would be using this race as a taster for the two World Cups I would be entering later in the season. Unfortunately, I woke up on Wednesday morning with the first signs of cold, and as I don’t like being dysfunctional in any way, I soon became ‘Monster Potter’ to all those close to me (sorry Ian).

Thinking about Saturday morning is a bit of a blur. I knew it would be a painful race as my body awoke without any zip. For four laps my brain fought with my legs as one said ‘go’, while the other said ‘no’. I managed a good start after being mistakenly gridded 13th, when my world UCI ranking of 24th should have had me gridded third, and found myself riding with a bunch of girls who were all fighting it out for third position. Mary McConneloug remained in first from start to finish, while Rosara Joseph took control of second place from the word go. Both girls were in a league of their own and most of us knew we would be over cooking it if we tried to chase them down.

Half way round the second lap, I started to feel the affects of my cold. I was struggling to maintain the strong pace the group set. Then Great Britain’s Amy Hunt had a mechanical in front of me on the single track, and didn’t think to move to let me pass by, forcing me to jump from my bike and run up one of the steep banks. By this point I was by myself, and looking for a soft landing, as I thought about curling up for a little siesta. I only have myself to blame for even considering an easy way out. I chose the wrong landing, although not purposely, as I slid out on a piece of fire road, and my legs scraped across the ground. My ribs felt the handle bar and I lay winded. I only had three quarters of a lap to go, and I knew before too long the other girls would start to catch me up.

Soon enough Paula Mosely stormed by and looked very strong. I had dropped back to 7th and was still fading. I dug deep and managed to hold her wheel. I used Paula to give me something to focus on, to help me get me back to the finish line. As far as I was concerned Paula had earnt 6th position. But with 1km to go Paula backed off and appeared to let me go in front on the final stretch of fire road. I presumed she was saving herself for the sprint finish across the line. I didn’t look back, thinking Paula was on my back wheel, and just pedalled as hard as I could. By this stage, I just wanted my bed. I crossed the line in 6th position, and realised Paula hadn’t stayed with me. I was disappointed for Paula, as she looked much stronger than I felt and was deserving of my position.

Top 5 podium –
1. Mary McConneloug (Seven/Kenda)
2. Rosara Joseph (Giant)
3. Jenny Copnall (Gary Fisher)
4. Jenn O’Connor (Patterson Racing)
5. Janka Stevkova (CK MTB Dohnany)

I really struggled today, but was pleased as punch that I finished. Only one place off a podium position was a good result for me against a field with such strength in depth. Perhaps more importantly with the next few races approaching, including racing solo at Mountain Mayhem, today was great training for my mind. I came so close to quitting during the second half of the race, but I fought that little voice in my head and beat it.

A restless night, with body temperature high and achy joints wasn’t what I needed before the start of the 100km marathon. I had an hour to decide whether to race or not. In order to be eligible for a series podium I had to finish today’s race, as I’m unable to attend the fourth round of the series. My coach Matt Hart warned me of all the possible consequences of racing with a cold. Ian didn’t want me to start, and the weather forecast was looking grim. I went against their better judgement (sorry) and decided to start, with the aim to finish. I was under strict orders from Mr P, not to race hard and if he thought I was suffering too much he was going to pull me out of the race (well so he thought). All I can say about the 100km marathon is that it was a blur of a battle from start to finish. As promised, the rain started at midday and didn’t stop. Not only did the course test bodies, but bikes as well, as many people were forced to quit due to mechanical problems. By the last two laps I was numb from head to toe and struggled to even collect my water bottle from Ian. I was shivering and thinking about stopping to layer up as I couldn’t ride hard enough to warm up, I do have Aussie blood after all. I wondered whether I would be able to keep going if I did make a quick pit stop. I kept expecting chain suck and my brake pads to wear away, as the mud was like grinding paste. But the Soda made it to the finish line, all in one piece, I’m very happy to say.

As for me, well I made it to the finish line and that was the best result for me today. I did manage the win, but as far as I was concerned everyone who battled their way through the 100km deserved podium positions. Although I helped design the course, I promise you I didn’t order the weather.

Well done to all who made it through the day, including Maddie Horton (2nd) and Mel Alexander (3rd). Thank you to Martyn Salt and his team for another great weekend, plus all the volunteers who gave up their weekend to support the second round of the national series.

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